Taking Care of Baby

Taking Care of BabyThe blessing and burden that is motherhood is on display at City Center, where Taking Care of Baby, the intriguingly uncomfortable play by Dennis Kelly, is making its American debut.

Presented in the style of a documentary, where a disembodied, coolly remote male voice, asks the questions and presumably records the answers, Taking Care of Baby examines the case of Donna (Kristen Bush), a woman accused of murdering her two children, and Lynn (a graciously elegant Margaret Colin), her mother, an aspiring politician.

Whether or not Donna committed the murder is never answered; the audience can draw their own conclusions from the abundance of evidence presented to them. This evidence includes several interviews conducted with Donna, while she is in varying degrees of shock, numbness, defensiveness and hope, as well as her estranged husband, Martin (Francois Battiste, excellent) and a doctor whose research contributed to Donna’s diagnosis (played by Reed Birney, whose uncomfortable laugh alone deserves an award).

Much of the play, which is directed by Erica Schmidt, takes place with little to no set; the set that does present itself serves as a sitting room/living room/office for many of the characters and it is completely decorated in shades of beige – perhaps to urge the audience to remain neutral?

However, if the audience is capable of maintaining a neutral opinion, the other members of the company are not, including an opportunist reporter (Michael Crane), the psychiatrist’s wife (Amelia Campbell) and Lynn’s loyal aide (Ethan Phillips).

Taking Care of Baby is a compelling drama, and with a cast as devoted and skillful as this one, its two hours fly by. As Lynn, Colin gives a heartfelt performance of complexity and depth, bringing humanity to a conflicted woman attempting to climb the political ladder. With her sleek patrician appearance, Colin accurately looks the part, and her ability to infuse even the coldest character with warmth is a great benefit to the character of Lynn. Bush depicts real anguish as Donna – although, for exactly what, we are not sure – as well as rendering her character’s confusion and loss both sympathetic and believable. Birney is in truly fine form as Dr. Millard, portraying a man suffering both personally and professionally and unable to navigate the two separately. Battiste is especially excellent as Martin, infusing his few scenes with rage and grief. And Campbell, Crane and Phillips all perform their numerous roles with skill.

While Taking Care of Baby presented numerous and intriguing questions about truth, documentation of truth, and the obsession within our culture of love crimes domestic disturbances, following the performance, I found myself mulling over the questions it raised about motherhood more than anything else.

Perhaps Donna wasn’t a good mother. But perhaps she wasn’t meant to be a mother. She said she loved her children, but what did love entail to a person like Donna? Did she love them so much that she killed them? Did she think about killing herself to save them from her? Or did Donna simply not want to be a mother and find herself trapped within the role of motherhood, due to societal pressures? It’s not easy to be a mother in today’s culture, even when you truly want to be.

I hope that plays like Taking Care of Baby will inspire thought about, rather than judgment of mothers, as well as reflection upon the roles that both parents play in our society. As marriage continues to evolve, as well as gender roles, one hopes potential tragedies like those addressed in Taking Care of Baby will one day be averted.

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