And Baby Makes Seven

Imaginary children lead to imaginary murders.

There are moments from Paula Vogel's And Baby Makes Seven that stick with me: Anna, a pregnant woman, seated on a kitchen chair and smiling while her gay male roommate, Peter, cups one of her breasts, and Ruth, her lesbian lover, holds the other; Ruth fighting her alter ego, a snarling, wolf-like imaginary child, for a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich; Peter and Ruth practicing for the arrival of Anna's baby by bathing a plastic doll; Ruth standing by the window with an arm upraised, awaiting a flock of balloons that will carry her skyward like the little boy in the film The Red Balloon. What's right with Vogel's work is exactly what's wrong with that of many other playwrights, including Theresa Rebeck, whose Our House is currently showing at the Denver Center. While Rebeck's work is all talk, Vogel thinks in dramatic images — many of them surprising and off-kilter.

And Baby Makes Seven begins with silhouettes. Two children seem to be romping on a bed, indulging in the giggling, squealing sex talk of childhood, speculating on how the baby got into and will come out of their mother's tummy. They are joined by a third figure, male, making comments that seem shocking until we realize that the first two figures aren't children but grown women: Ruth and Anna. We soon learn that they convinced Peter to knock up Anna, and all three are looking forward to the baby's birth. But Ruth and Anna already have three imaginary children — the feral boy Orphan, who was raised by dogs; Henri, representing the hero of The Red Balloon; and a smart, solemn nine-year-old called Cecil — and they move in and out of these roles without warning. Peter is starting to find the situation untenable, and after an anguished house meeting, everyone agrees that the imaginary children must die.

Kjersti Ingela Webb (left) and  Rebecca Brown Adelman in And Baby Makes Seven.
Kjersti Ingela Webb (left) and Rebecca Brown Adelman in And Baby Makes Seven.

At times the children seem to take on a life independent of their two creators, and it's touching when one or the other appears to sense impending oblivion. As it turns out, the first death is gruesome, the second lyrical and the third a parody of Cassius's suicide at the hand of his servant in Julius Caesar. (This is only one of many references to other works, from Hamlet to Tea and Sympathy, the 1950s film that attempted to deal with homosexuality without actually mentioning it.)

Mark Fischer's meticulous set and lighting support the action brilliantly, and the direction, by Steve Grad and Charlotte Brecht Munn, is sophisticated. Although we know little of Peter's background or motivation, Kevin Causey gives him intelligence and depth. Rebecca Brown Adelman is smooth and appealing as grown-up Ruth, and loads of fun when she morphs into growling Orphan or sex-crazed little Henri, who's always fooling with the waistband of his pants. And with her straight hair falling across her face and a tiny tuft of it sticking up at the crown of her head, Kjersti Ingela Webb is a bright, likable Anna.

And Baby Makes Seven hints at serious themes — questioning whether we ever really do grow up, detailing the ways in which Anna, Peter and Ruth must change and accommodate to become a family. But for the most part, it's a comic fairy tale and, despite some scary Brothers Grimm-style currents, a celebration at heart, sweet-natured and affirmative.

 
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