>BABY WITH THE BATHWATER by Ingot Art Dimension

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 18 aug 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: the jubilee hall
>rating: **1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

                           
>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.
 

>>>>>A SLIPPERY SLIDE

The first half of award-winning playwright Christopher Durang's remarkable script for BABY WITH THE BATHWATER is a truly stunning piece of work. It is an unadulterated joy to witness his biting and often surreal satire unfold before your eyes in true Absurdist fashion. Every word, every action is milked to its utmost ludicrously comic potential even as very serious issues about (excessive) parenting and home influence are explored.

Although Steven Lim and Esther Yap were not without fault - both actors often being unable to express the complexity of Durang's script that delicately straddles the razor's edge between comedy and serious drama by either falling completely one way or the other - both actors turned in solid performances with Adelina Ong giving us a truly winning performance and very many laughs as the Neo-Nazi Nanny that John and Helen turn to for help with their Baby. Luanne Poh, Director KJ Pang and lighting director Tay Huey Meng and Zizi Azhar, too, impressed with their sensitive touch, although Pang's direction was a little choppy at times.

With so much going for it, bizzarely, the play then abruptly takes a sharp dive after the interval instead of tapping into the potential hinted at in the first act. Although the script has to share some of the burden of the blame - resorting to cliched explorations of themes already addressed in the first half instead of minning the new and richer vein of gender-benderism that erupts from Daisy being raised as a girl when she is really a boy; perhaps the script should have remained the one-act play it was originally intended to be? - the main problem seemed to be with the suddenly leaden pace with which the actors were chugging out the lines.

>>'The play abruptly takes a sharp dive after the interval instead of tapping into the potential hinted at in the first act.'

Although Kevin Verghese started well, hitting the nail right on the head with his monologue, beautifully posed and performed in silhouette, suddenly, it all went horribly wrong. It was as if the role became too big and overwhelmed him and none of his usual charm and spark managed to make its way to the surface. The same can be said for Steven Lim who while capable as the ineffectual young father seemed quite out of his depth when playing a scattered middle-aged man. Esther Yap, aged most effectively by make-up artiste Amy Chow, convinced impressively as the aging mother who still cannot see that sometimes love can be the wrong sort of love while Adelina turned in another spirited and engaging performance as the Principal who is more interested in her sad little life than that of Daisy, her troubled student; but even their attempts to show some interest in a second half gone rather awry were inadequate.

Most disappointing, and worse, offensive, was the decision to cast Steven Lim in a cross-dressing role in the pivotal and powerfully-written short annecdote that opens the second half. Steven generated laughs in the first five seconds of appearance but it was a cheap gag to pull and it is to the credit of the discerning audience that his ridiculously mannered and totally unnecessary performance was met only with silence for the rest of the scene, and more than likely left a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of the audience well to the end of the play. The idea of a male actor playing the part of a concerned mother was a truly inspired take on director Pang's part - why then insult that idea by playing it purely for laughs and making a mockery of serious issues of gender, identity and child abuse?

Ironically, the play as a whole might have been hampered less if the first half had actually not been quite as good as, at least, a certain balance would have been achieved across what was now a very glaring gap between the two acts.