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November 3, 2006

Imagine all the children

A well-done, crazy play from a theater that is comfortable with them

It might seem to the casual observer that lesbians are having more kids nowadays than heterosexuals.

Logo has more documentaries about queer baby-spawning than there are episodes of Law and Order on basic cable, a truly frightening statistic.

Set against this milieu, Paula Vogelís play And Baby Makes Seven, playing through November 18 at Convergence-Continuum Theater, is a witty take on assisted maternity and the odd dynamics that can emerge when there are no cut-and-dried rules for family life.

Anna (Jovana Batkovic) and Ruth (Denise Astorino) are having a baby. Anna is carrying it, having been impregnated by their gay male roommate Peter (Geoffrey Hoffman). The birth is not far off, and everyoneís getting ready for the addition . . .

including their three other children, Orphan, Henri and Cecil.

Orphan was raised by dogs near the Port Authority bus terminal in New York, while Cecil is a pre-adolescent genius. Henri is a little French boy who was dropped off in New York by a red balloon.

Since Henri, Cecil and Orphan are imaginary, they shouldnít take up too much space in the apartment.

However, when Peter thinks itís time for Anna and Ruth to grow up and get rid of their imaginary friends, tempers flare. The demise of people who donít really exist can be just as traumatic as if they were real children.

Vogelís material is masterful. She created a sharply funny play that easily segues into deadly serious moments that had audience members dabbing at their eyes, also a testament to the cast.

The only weakness of the material is a single dated reference (lots of people drink dry martinis now, it was back in the 1980s that they had gone out of vogue) and one odd regional term (what the holy baloney is a hassock? Oh, a footrest). Neither distracts much from the material, which otherwise is as timely and universal as any playwright could hope.

Artistic director Clyde Simon, who also directed the play, once again illustrates the deftness with which he handles off-the-wall material.

His selections are so odd, so engrossing, so far off the beaten track, one almost suspects he would snap and go on a cross-country killing spree if forced to direct something like Thornton Wilderís Our Town or Arthur Millerís The Crucible, those mainstays of high school drama departments.

For his cast, he selected three able actors who each bring a great deal to the show.

Batkovicís Cecil is Pee-Wee Herman on some illicit chemical substance: precocious, annoying, but fun and funny. Anna is a wonderfully realized character as well, deserving of the playís best line--ďSuck my imaginary dick!Ē

Astorino, one of the guiding forces behind Clevelandís LGBT arts organization Wild Plum Productions, easily steps between the seriousness of Ruth (who gets her own share of frivolity) and the other two imaginary children. Her Henri is absolutely adorable, although the moments leading up to his ďdeath sceneĒ are truly tragic.

Astorino absolutely, and almost literally, chews up the scenery as Orphan, the wild child. Itís rare that one can see an actor of her skill really . . . er . . . sink her teeth into a role, but itís apparent from any seat in the house that she is having a great deal of fun with her role. And Orphanís Hamlet moment is absolutely not to be missed.

Hoffman is a capable thespian as well, left with an odd role: trying to play adult to the constantly-regressing women, while he himself obviously wants to enjoy his youth.

Torn between wanting to be there for the women and the baby and his fears of becoming his own father, Peter is an understated character whose role in the climax of the piece justifies the tendency to like him simply because Hoffman is attractive and well-built.

Hoffman resists the urge to stereotype his performance as a gay man, although he was prone on opening night to some odd affectations. Those, however, are completely forgivable, especially in light of his perfect comic sense in the baby bath/baby football scene. Watching him try to figure out how to carry a baby from reading a book is a moment that should go down in Cleveland theater history.

Performances of And Baby Makes Seven are at 8 pm, Thursday to Saturday, until November 18. Tickets are$12, $9 for students and seniors.

Convergence-Continuum Theater holds its productions at the Liminis, 2438 Scranton Road in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland. For more information or tickets, call 216-6870074 or go to www.convergence-continuum.org.

 

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