nytheatre.com review by David Fuller
March 11, 2006
Baby Girl is a new play by Edith Freni, directed by Padraic Lillis for Partial Comfort Productions. What a good show! And I don’t use “good” lightly. Now, “great” for me is Death of a Salesman great, or, True West great. Is Freni’s show great? No, but my use of that last Shepard metaphor is purposeful. I really think she has a voice that recalls Shepard. Is she the “next” Sam Shepard? Of course not, she is the next Freni! But her absurd naturalism certainly stakes a claim as a bona fide 21st century commentator on the human condition, as perpetrated by the American culture.
In the plot, Elise (Trisha LaFrache), a shall we say girl of “loose” morals, has had a baby out of wedlock by Richie (John Summerour), who happens to be the transgendered half brother of both Jason, a New York City policeman (Chris Kipiniak), and Patrick, a cook (chef?) in a successful restaurant (Curran Connor). In their Long Island community, Elise was the “easy lay” of these boys in days gone by. Now the “chick” has come home to roost—she had her baby girl to experience motherhood and now she really is determined to be a good mother. But who is going to be, or willing to be, the father?
I loved Baby Girl for its examination (and confrontation) of an all too common story of the struggle of children having children. And its darkly comedic take on the proceedings made me really think about the plight of the heroine. Moreover, we care about all the characters, which is why I think Freni could insert an intermission without fear of an audience exodus. We aren’t going to leave—we want to know what happens.
I will not comment further on the plot, for you must experience it yourself. Let’s just say the entire cast is wonderful. Now, such credit certainly goes to the actors (I have neglected to mention the marvelous supporting characters played by Sarah Hayon and Andrew Stewart-Jones), but credit is also due director Lillis. Paradoxically perhaps, Lillis was absent, which, in my mind, shows how much he was present: I think, the mark of a good director is often the ultimate apparent absence of a director.
Les Liang’s non-realistic set perfectly suits the play in the space, ably lit by Jason Jeunnette. Lex Liang’s costumes suit the characters well. The sound design by Zach Williamson is appropriately energetic and trendily loud—again, perfect for this production.
See this play. Some of my fellow audience members found it funnier than I did, but, of course, so what? If I didn’t laugh I was still always engaged. And you will find it funny, or sad, in places that neither I nor my then fellow audience members did. Such is the mark of a good play. Such is the legacy of maestro Shepard.