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A CurtainUp Review
And Baby Makes Seven
Jordan G. Teicher
More than 20 years since it was last staged in New York, And Baby Makes Seven asks still-relevant questions about family, friendship and love. It's not Vogel's best work, but its natural humor and warmth make it charming nonetheless, and certainly worth revisiting.
The family at the center of And Baby Makes Seven may no longer seem revolutionary, but it's undeniably quirky. Most of the credit is due to the expecting couple, Anna (Constance Zaytoun) and Ruth (Susan Bott), who we immediately learn have been engaged in a sort of long-running household gag: With extraordinary dedication, they playact the roles of three imaginary children.
Like any good and slightly strange partners, they split the responsibilities: Anna is Cecil, a precocious boy genius, while Ruth does double duty as a French boy named Henri (inspired by the protagonist of Albert Lamorisse's short film, The Red Balloon) and a wild child called Orphan. Together, they serve as vessels for Anna and Ruth's deeper fears and hopes. Under Marc Stuart Weitz's direction, Bott and Zaytoun handle their multiple roles beautifully, and Brett J. Banakis' set helps us realize those transitions.
It is especially fun watching Bott play pretend — she embraces Orphan's impishness and carries Henri's swagger in a way that's truly joyful. Her virtuosity is best displayed, inevitably when she's playing both simultaneously in a gag involving a mysteriously disappearing peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Peter (Ken Barnett), the father of the real-life baby-to-be is, of course, less than amused, and much of the conflict in the play arises from his disturbance. We don't learn too much else about Peter, or Anna or Ruth for that matter. It might have been Vogel's intention to keep the focus on the kids, but it's not hard to imagine how the play might have been enriched by fleshing out its corporeal characters.
Besides minor spats between the three expecting parents, there's never too much at stake in And Baby Makes Seven — at least in reality. In the world of Orphan, Cecil and Henri, things become grave when their parents decide, out of a desire to make room for the new addition to their family, to exterminate them.
But it's not as easy as wishing them away. Anna and Ruth are committed to the fantasy, so the demises of the three boys are carefully plotted and more than slightly tragic dramas that threaten to inflict tangible trauma on their adult actors.
Ultimately, illusion is more tempting and enduring than it seems, and Anna, Ruth and Peter end up in much the same place as they started (despite having made the transition to bonafide parenthood). Stasis as an outcome can be frustrating in theater, but not if the ride in between is enjoyable. Luckily, And Baby Makes Seven is one of those rides.