The Baby: a wonky white trash cross-dressing wonder
by Drew Rowsome- Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
It was a relief to discover in the program notes, that The Baby (the play) is based on a cult film, The Baby. Otherwise one would have serious doubts about creator Dan Spurgeon's sanity. The Baby (the play) is demented even by the outré standards of the haghorrorgenre, campy beyond belief, and wildly entertaining. Somewhere Charles Ludlam is smiling.
The Storefront Theatre is reconfigured into a flexible black box divided by cheerful '60s pop art panels. Bouncy, cheesy pop fills the air - "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree" and a catchy saccharine version of "Brandy" by some group like the New Christy Minstrels - and the combination is so aesthetically horrifying and pleasing that I would have been content to sit there for hours. Herb Alpert's version of "Thus Spake Zarathustra" seductively blares and the lights go down. Then things get real crazy.
A social worker arrives to visit the trailer trash family the Wadsworths - mother, two daughters and Baby. From there on in, The Baby is a rollicking comedy, a hag horror spectacle, a violent mystery, and something completely tackily unclassifiable. The audience roared with laughter, spontaneously applauded a soliloquy in song, and, unusual for a Toronto audience, gasped in shock. There is much side-eye, many ominous statements, a '70s-themed out-of-control party, and fabulous fabulous outfits. Even the set changes have been choreographed to within an inch of their lives and milk comedy out of necessity.
The script is, as the film must be, dreadfully earnest and plot-heavy - though the final twist did catch me totally by surprise, I laughed uncontrollably in sheer horror - but that just gives the cast a chance to interpret and over-emote. Claire Burns is the sexpot sister with lesbian leerings and double takes that bring down the house; Alicia Richardson is the sexpot sister who is also a gleeful sadist. Jeanie Calleja is the buttoned-down social worker with some nasty secrets. Candi Zell gives the loopiest line readings this side of Ann Holloway and is totally endearing even while going full-on Mommie Dearest. They are supported by a large and dedicated cast/scenery movers - including Alex Dault (Firebrand), Nicholas Porteous (Goodnight Desdemona, Good Morning Juliet) and Olivia Marshman who is also responsible for the elaborate choreography - who grab every scrap of spotlight available.
There is little space left a centrestage. Jeff Dingle (Lord of the Flies) is a scene-stealer as the diapered, disturbing and sexually developing Baby, but not even Joan Crawford back from the dead would be noticed while Frank Blocker as Mama Wadsworth is present. Imperious, radiant, imposing and terrifying, Blocker can twist a lipsticked lip or cock an eyebrow, and the audience convulses. A simple line like "You lying bitch" consists of ten or more syllables, each over-ripe with meaning, menace and innuendo. It is drag on steroids, acting skating on the edge of world domination.
The Baby wallows in its perversity and B-movie roots and is just plain trashy fun. You will laugh, you will choke on that laughter, and by the end you will be somewhat dazed and probably uncomfortable at having your taboos tested. And you will be bouncing out into the night to the gleeful ghastly earworms of '70s schlock pop. Somewhere Charles Ludlam is smiling.