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Baby With the Bathwater

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Baby With the Bathwater, Janus Theatre, at the Athenaeum Theatre. In his 1983 two-act diatribe against bad parenting, Christopher Durang shoots too many arrows. Dated absurdist humor can't disguise the overkill in his excruciatingly repetitious depiction of Helen and John, ignorant progenitors of a child whose sex they're too repressed to determine. They name the kid Daisy, nearly lose him under the wheels of a bus, and dress him as a girl for 15 years. Emotionally abandoned, he falls prey to a randy nanny, a corrupt principal, and a bored psychiatrist. Somehow Daisy manages to break the cycle of abuse and insanity: in the last scene he and his nearly normal wife bend lovingly over a baby who will not go through the horror he did.

It's a pity that Durang takes so long to spell out what the tabloids prove every day: if hunters and auto mechanics have to get a license, then surely prospective parents should too. Terence Domschke's earnest staging inevitably collapses in the face of the play's perverse challenge: it's hard to sustain Durang's anger amid his vaudevillian running jokes, smart-ass cultural allusions, and predictable shock effects. Patricia True and Sean Hargadon as the selfish, clueless couple maintain a toxic atmosphere of befuddlement, their haplessness contrasted with Diane McFarlin's coolly predatory nanny. When Keith Compton finally appears as Daisy, he brings a survivor's dignity to a role that could have been sheer victim.

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