Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Parenthood, planned and otherwise

Owens-Lancaster has a Baby
by Christopher Key

Veteran Bellingham Theatre Guild director Judith Owens-Lancaster understands that putting on a major musical has certain similarities to giving birth.  Some of us even get morning sickness.  In this case, director and Baby are doing just fine, thank you.

If you’re expecting that Baby will just be another hearts-and-flowers paean to Motherhood, think again.  The book was written by a woman, Sybille Pearson, based on a story developed with Susan Yankowitz.  Even though the music and lyrics were written by guys, a certain female authenticity remains.  That includes some fairly detailed biological details that may not be appropriate for younger children.

It also includes some screamingly funny lines that no man could ever conceive, if you’ll pardon the expression, along with some two-hanky pathos that even men can understand.  Mostly.  Baby was birthed in the 1980s and that oft-maligned era informs the script.

Photo credit - David Cohn

The story focuses on three couples who are facing the awesomeness of pregnancy.  Danny and Lizzy are college students who are still struggling with career choices when the rabbit dies (look that one up, kiddies).  Both are musicians, both are rebellious and both have issues with traditional marriage.  Lovely bit of role-reversal here as he wants to commit and she doesn’t.  Brendan Francis and Kim Turpin are well-matched both as actors and as singers.

Photo credit - David Cohn

Nick and Pam originally think she’s pregnant, but then find out it’s a false positive.  Turns out he’s, in scientific terminology, shooting blanks.  Phillip Ortego and Robin Becar portray this couple with great good humor, but also immense sensitivity to what this situation does to the male ego.  Another pair of well-matched voices.

Photo credit - David Cohn

Two of Bellingham’s best actors, Bonnie Hollingsworth and Glen Nelson Bristow, deliver a master class as a pair of empty-nesters who are struck by reproductive lightning in their 40s.  Their story is perhaps the most compelling, both for its joy and its sorrow.  Their rediscovery of love for each other after she miscarries is nothing short of iconic.

The supporting cast is terrific, and two people stand out.  Liz Leighton is the real estate lady who would refer to a house demolished by a tornado as a “handyman special.”  Mike Schackel, who has been battling cancer, makes a rousing comeback as a slightly demented OB/GYN.

BTG president Andy Backus designed the set, consisting mostly of a bed.  He and Lighting Designer Ryan Goelzenleuchter collaborate on some very effective use of BTG’s new tech toys.  Deborah Blakesley, absent from the local theatre scene for far too long, delivers the choreography, which she described as “purposeful movement.”  Costumer Susan Duncan must have a thorough grasp of the 80s because Hollingsworth told me after the show that she had been wearing polyester for three hours.  We do suffer for our art.

Baby is an unexpected delight, especially for those of us whose childbearing years are, thankfully, over.  It reminds us of all the excitement and unfettered potential surrounding those first reproductive efforts, intentional or not.  As the song says, “The Story Goes On” and that’s because we just love to reproduce.

Baby performs January 29 – February 14 at the BTG Playhouse, 1600 H Street.  Tickets are available through the box office by calling (360) 733-1811, Tuesday – Saturday 1:00 – 6:00 p.m.  For more information, see

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