Theater Review: THE BABY DANCE: MIXED (Rubicon Theatre Company in Ventura)

by Tony Frankel on May 8, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

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AN UPDATED BABY IS STILL CAPTIVATING THEATER

For all its melodrama, Jane Anderson’s The Baby Dance has always been one of my favorite plays since I first saw it at Pasadena Playhouse in 1990. Revisiting the show again at Actors Co-op years later only cemented my sentiments. A poor couple living in a Louisiana trailer park read an advertisement from a Los Angeles couple willing to pay for a baby to adopt. With too many children already, the southerners – who don’t believe in abortion — see a pregnancy as a moneymaking opportunity; moreover, the infant will be put in a good home. Act I has the adoptive mother visit the birth mother at her run-down trailer where an awkward culture clash ensues. Act II moves to a hospital room where the adoptive father and his attorney wait with the others for the woman to give birth.

This courageous, disconcerting, earnestly measured, sympathetically crafted play has now been re-written to add another layer of class warfare: race. The results for Rubicon Theatre’s world premiere, Baby Dance: Mixed, are exhilarating – as satisfying and thought-provoking and disturbing as theater can be. Now, the affluent Hollywood couple is mixed-race – Regina (Tracey A. Leigh) is black and Richard (Brian Robert Burns) — as in the original — is both white and Jewish.

The erstwhile poor white trash couple is now black, their kids live with grandma, and their neighbors – who were black in the original – are now Latinos with loud music (Randall Robert Tico’s directional sound is disturbingly real). Unemployed Al (Gabriel Lawrence), who has a hair-trigger temper, and Wanda (Krystle Rose Simmons) might be poor, but they’re basically decent people, and canny. Before long, Al begins to think of Regina and Richard as an endless supply of money, and they in turn feel used — but they still want the baby. The drama in Act II remains the fate of the newborn, but the upward ratchet of suspense involves race relations between Al and an almost blasé lawyer Ron (Carl Palmer) and, especially, Richard.

Thomas Buderwitz’s representational set – which completely transforms from run-down trailer (with the aid of T. Theresa Scarano’s props) to hospital – isn’t very deep, which adds to director Jenny Sullivan’s cramped but taut staging. Sullivan, who helmed the very first Baby Dance, offers a superbly well-cast ensemble, but it is Ms. Simmons who leaves the most indelible mark as a pregnant, penurious, loving, co-dependent, wary, insulted, conflicted, deceiving woman who is the timeless stuff of Greek tragedy.

photos by Jeanne Tanner

The Baby Dance: Mixed
Rubicon Theatre Company
1006 E. Main Street in Ventura
Wed at 2 & 7; Thurs at 7; Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2
ends on May 20, 2018 EXTENDED to May 26, 2018
for tickets, call 805.667.2900 or visit Rubicon

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