nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
November 14, 2012
From playwright Susan Bernfield, founder of New Georges, comes Barking Girl, a story about how a woman can raise a child without losing her identity.
It is no easy task (as I can attest from watching my own wife and child) and this play from the middle of the last decade shows how much harder it has been. Rae (Adina Taubman) and her husband Gil (Max Arnaud) are on vacation in the South of France. Gil had food poisoning so Rae went to the art museum by herself, and there she heard a very inconsiderate girl who kept making barking noises, thus preventing any enjoyment of the art. They discuss a favorite J.D. Salinger story, "A Bad Day For Bananafish" in which an unstable man back from WWII shoots himself at the beach.
And there is a central theme of the piece: Rae is stuck doing what needs to be done while Gil is incapacitated. Or is it the opposite?
Still in France, Rae sits next to "Sexy Man" (Tom O'Keefe) on a flight. Sexy Man, like Gil and again unlike Rae, is somewhat unconcerned with his own mortality or with using big words. Rae declines Sexy Man's offer to have an affair, explaining that she is going to have a baby. Disturbingly, she has spent the last two scenes smoking and drinking. In France, everyone does.
Back in the U.S., Rae and her sister Becca (Meg MacCary) discuss parenting. Gil takes his son to the park and knows how to be playful and happy. Rae, who is home with the child most of the time (while writing) and sees parenting as work, cannot get to the same level of enjoyment. She scolds her husband that the caregivers he sees in the park are not "moms" but "women who are moms".
Becca, a lesbian, is looking for a sperm donor so her partner can become pregnant. Again, it seems that any parent who is not the birth mother is not stressed out. From here, Rae runs into Sexy Man several times in Upper West Side butcher shops but does not give in to his charms. I won't ruin the ending, but Rae gets progressively more involved in raising her son while marveling at his excessive energy.
Adina Taubman delivers a stellar performance as Rae. Well, no one said being a mother was easy. On the other hand, the men in this play tend to behave like simpletons or sleazeballs, or at least they are directed that way. In any case, now that we have more stay-at-home-dads, we can call them "men who are fathers" and extend our sympathies to them as well.
It's clear that Rae is under a lot of pressure, which at one point causes her to start barking, but the play doesn't provide a rational explanation for her inability to relax. Perhaps there doesn't need to be clear evidence of what is tearing at Rae (note: the baby is never seen, so we have to imagine). It is probably because Gil leaves his home to go to work that Rae envies him so much. We all need to make space to be who we are.