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Playing With Grown Ups
By Elyse Sommer
As it turns out, the baby is not a bundle of joy but one of those infants who cries incessantly (she's either colicky or reacting to a lack of bonding with her mom). While Joanna apparently escaped the trauma of an age weakened biological clock, she does seem to be suffering from severe post-partum depression. What's more, the marriage is clearly in trouble. The long-delayed parenting has kicked up problems dating back to Joanna, Robert and Jake's college days and her decision to throw in her lot with the devoted Robert instead of the commitment shy, bon vivant Jake.
While Stella is wise beyond her age, she brings her own fairly obvious daddy problems to her relationship with Jake(she's close to her psychotherapist mom but has no contact with dad). At any rate, she is the most cheerful and upbeat presence at this get-together and even manages to temporarily quiet the wailing infant with a lullaby. But Stella's youth, both spiritual and physical, kicks up the older trio's sense of loss of their own more enjoyable younger days. Another issue affecting Jake and Robert's long-time friendship pertains to the changes at the college which Jake as department head is more likely to survive than Robert.
That's a lot of unresolved problems to unpack into just ninety minutes. And I'm afraid Ms. Patterson, despite some savvy interaction between her characters, hasn't done justice to any of them. There seem to be several plays here, but, all put, together they fail to add up to a genuinely timely and provocative whole.
Things starts off promisingly enough with intimations of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf permeating the four-character drawing room setup. The tense atmosphere is headed for emotional explosions with the arrival of the host's old friend and his new girlfriend — especially since its fuelled by many glasses of wine.
The playwright admirably enough aims for a fresh look at the already much explored central question about whether women can have it all. Sure, being a working mom is full of stress and strain, but it's as if she's never hears of breast pumps and nannies that make it possible even though difficult. What makes Joanna different is that she represents a smaller less talked about segment of women who don't find motherhood critical to their sense of fulfillment. This exploration of the maternal instinct gets lost in the face of the more familiar situation of post-partum depression which in Joanna's case is downright dangerous.
The play's most timely issue is brought up by Jake, who sees that professions like his and Robert's as just one illustration of how people with careers once valued are in danger of becoming dinosaurs well before their time. Joanna may well find that the job she finds more satisfying than her baby is likely to become more stressful than satisfying, if not completely redundant. As Robert and Jake's college is subject to cut budgets and the need to be more trendy, so Joanna is in a changing work place — a blockbuster dominated environment that's not apt to be hospitable to publishing books by neglected women authors with modest sales appeal in the blockbuster dominated world.
Hannah Eidinow's sure'handed direction and Simon Scullion's simple living room set with its theme and background related movie posters serve the story well. At the intimate Theater B you almost feel as if you were actually in that living room. Whether you'd want to be there is another matter.