The demented “The Baby ” comes to Toronto’s Storefront Theatre: Review + Podcast with Director & Star
The film version of Abe Polsky’s script The Baby (1973) is truly an unforgettable experience, partly because it’s such a strange mix of drama, black comedy, and the undeniable weirdness of a man-infant living in a crib.
It’s hard to figure out exactly what the filmmakers were going for until the final shot, which makes it quite clear – much like Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – that The Baby is a very, very black comedy.
It’s perhaps the grey matter within the film’s first half and midsection, plus the atrocious hairstyles and noxious clothes, which make it so alluring, but the script also seems to challenge the viewer into figuring out exactly what kind of moral tale Polsky the writer and director Ted Post were attempting to create.
For those who saw it in bits & pieces in their youth or managed to watch the complete film on TV or home video, it’s very much a work of cinema bizarre, and that everlasting memory undoubtedly tickled writer-director Dan Spurgeon into transposing Polsky’s script to the live stage.
The Baby shares more than a few core elements that ground a well-structured play: strong / vivid characters, solid dialogue, and a few potent dramatic peaks which, when transposed from 1973 to 2013 (the year Spurgeon’s play debuted in Los Angeles), give the story plenty of dynamics.
Some of those dynamics allow for some creative license in crafting a look, stylized dialogue and trash talk, plus bawdy physical performances and more than a few scenes that push the play into a special realm of high camp, but Spurgeon and his excellent cast never lose sight of the story nor the core of their characters.
There’s Mama (the superb Frank Blocker, reprising his role of the formidable matriarch from the original L.A. production), who loves her son in spite of regarding him as the one adult male she can completely control and render fully dependent.
As Baby (the son has no formal name), Jeff Dingle is the story’s anchor, the innocent mind corrupted by every adult in his life, and a malleable human being prized by Mama, and her looming rival – fresh-faced social worker Ann Gentry (Jeanie Calleja).
Ann’s job is to ensure Baby’s being well cared-for, although she too begins to reveal her designs for the tormented son – actions that eventually fracture the already messed up family unit and show Ann is hiding a very dark secret.
One could find parallels to the kind of defensive, trash families typical of John Waters; Spurgeon’s own brand of camp is just as playful, but he draws from a different brand of visual elements, of music (the pre-show tracks are truly precious), and performance styles.
Ann is earnest and wants to please, while Mama bellows and manages her daughters like a ringleader with a drama queen’s ego. Daughters Alba (Alicia Richardson) and Germaine (Claire Burns) are grotesquely oversexed, while Baby is the somewhat innocent, wordless infant.
Ann’s grave / histrionic supervisor (Paul Rivers) has apparently been dropped into the play from an Ed Wood sex ed drama, and Ann’s mother (Candi Zell) talks in a sing-song voice that suggests brain damage from ongoing solvent abuse, or unfortunate stupidity.
Spurgeon’s stage adaptation is rather brilliant in distilling Polsky’s script into a substantive play with many scene changes that add to the story’s momentum. The Baby is briskly paced yet never drifts from Polsky’s intricate plot, retaining the essence of the original characters while giving the superb actors more than enough wiggle room to add their own campy spin cycles.
Fans of the film will be delighted that the weirdest scenes are still present: the babysitter encounter (Olivia Marshman) ranks as the film’s most demented, and Alba’s ‘punishment’ of Baby is still unnerving. The language is raw, the emotions range from earnest to deranged, and the simple set design manages to preserve the continuity of the scenes which were so expertly intercut in the feature film.
Highly recommended for fans of the film and connoisseurs of deranged, seventies wrongness, The Baby runs until Nov. 1st at Toronto’s Storefront Theatre, with weeknight 8pm shows, and 2pm matinee shows on Sundays.
Special thanks to producer Drew Blakeman and Glenda Fordham at Fordham P.R.
Ted Post’s 1973 film version of The Baby was recently released by Severin Films on Blu-ray.
Mark R. Hasan, Editor