By Paula Vogel
Directed by Beng Oh
With Ella Caldwell, Verity Charlton & Brett Cousins
Lighting by Dans Sheehan
And Baby Makes 7 (10 July – 4 August 2002) –Beat Magazine 18-Aug-02
Red Stitch Actors Theatre is a relative newcomer on the Melbourne theatre scene. And Baby Makes Seven is the company’s eighth and latest production, which has yet again proven that even at these early stages Red Stitch have nothing but quality productions under their belt.
The performance explores the lives of lesbian couple Anna and Ruth, who are creating a family with their gay friend Peter and are expecting their first child. They also have an added twist on the unusual family structure. three imaginary children the women regularly roleplay. Their choice to create a family, along with the complications added by their imaginary children, takes them toward new horizons. Do they need to be more ‘normal’? How will their lifestyle effect their soon-to-arrive child? In struggling with these questions, the three adults take themselves on a journey where no matter how much they try, they cannot predict their own endings.
The performance is perfectly suited to the cosy Red Stitch theatre. Also notable is the brave lighting design, which throws both performers and audience into near darkness for substantial portions of the piece, and the inventive and detailed soundscape.
There are three strong performances here by Brett Cousins (Peter), Ella Caldwell (Anna) and Verity Charlton (Ruth). Cousin’s portrayal of the ‘outsider’ in this three-way relationship, slowly being drawn further into the net of fantasies that have been created, balances out the sometimes frantic actions of the two women. In unbelievable circumstances these performers make us believe the unlikely.
While blurring boundaries of fantasy and reality is not a new concept, the outstanding direction of Beng Oh allows the show to stand out. The performance rises one step above typical issues of modern family structures, transforming into a piece which questions what happens when we succumb to ‘normal’ and lose our fantasies. A seamless performance which only serves to add to the Red Stitch phenomenon.
Helen Thompson, The Age 13-Aug-02
With its eighth production, Red Stitch Actors Theatre has once again come up with a contemporary American play we might otherwise never have seen. Paula Vogel, who won the 1998 Pulitzer prize for her play How I Learned to Drive, has had her work performed throughout the world, although rarely in Australia. And Baby Makes Seven pays homage to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, focusing on relationship entanglements and the complications of parenting. Albee’s husband and wife raged inside the cage of their marriage, tied together by their shared fantasy of a child.
Vogel’s ‘family’ has a fantasy family as well, but the relationships are much more contemporary and non-conformist.
Anna (Ella Caldwell) and Ruth (Verity Charlton) are a lesbian couple who, with Peter’s (Brett Cousins) help, are expecting a baby. But they already have three imaginary children, Cecil, an American boy, Henri (French), and Orphan (who was raised by wolves).
And so baby makes seven.
The fantasy children are the creations of Anna and Ruth, and Peter, whose fantasy character is Uncle Petey, begins to feel crowded out by the noisy, demanding brood who disrupt their nights. So, reluctantly, it is decided the boys must go.
What follows is more than the simple comedy this plot might suggest.
Vogel achieves a radical unsettling of our notions of real and fantasy, and of the power of play acting, as the actors relish their multiple roles.
Here Red Stitch once again lives up to its reputation for powerful, confronting, dedicated acting, without which this play could not really work.
Charlton, in particular, gives a superb performance as Ruth/Henri, seeming at times almost mad, possessed by her fantasy to the point where we wonder whether it is actually controlling her.
Caldwell and Cousins, parents of the new baby, convincingly suggest more scepticism, yet it is Peter who signals, towards the end, that “normal” family life is not enough for them. The play’s final scene hilariously discloses that “play” is much more fun than “life”.
What makes And Baby Makes Seven fascinating is not its lesbian parenting, or its menage a trois, but its brilliant unsettling of our notions, not of sexual boundaries, but of the “real”. It is theatre that cleverly theatricalises the everyday in a way that is, thanks to the excellent acting, both startling and funny.