Baby Screams Miracle is a wild storm of religion, sexuality, and family that leaves the audience unsure if the rest of the world is still standing.
From the first moment that Cody Nickell as Gabe takes the stage pantsless, the play is intimate, emotionally and physically, with very few barriers.
Gabe starts the play by leading his wife Carol (Kate Eastwood Norris) in prayer. While the thought of a play about religion may turn off some irreligious patrons, playwright Clare Barron keeps the topic accessible and meaningful. Even in this first scene, Gabe and Carol have clearly different relationships with religion and both characters are explored in ways even those with virtually no relationship with Christianity can appreciate.
For almost every moment of religion, Baby Screams Miracle also explores self-hatred, sexuality, and the human body, frequently all intermingled. If you can’t identify with the Christianity on stage, maybe something like shame over one’s porn habits will ring a bell. Shit, armpit hair, and masturbation all play a role in making this play deeply human.
After a violent windstorm strikes the house, Carol, Gabe, and Carol’s mother Barbara try to tidy up as Carol and Gabe’s younger daughter play quietly in the wreckage. They are surprised by the arrival of their elder daughter Cynthia, who has come home to help after a lengthy estrangement.
Sarah Marshall plays Barbara, grandmother to Cynthia and Kayden, with sincere affection, especially as she meets shy Kayden on her level, without demanding she change to calm her parents’ or sister’s concerns.
Caroline Dubberly is electric as Cynthia. Her anxiety and anger propel her forward even as they hold her back, keeping so many scenes right on the edge as the audience braces for her next move.
A simpler play would stew in the story of an atheist prodigal butting heads with a conservative family, but Barron has a respect for her characters that allows each one to be an empathetic human trying to help themselves and those they love, refreshingly pitting the family against nature, real and metaphorical, instead of each other.
With the family united, the storm strikes again with a nigh apocalyptic force. The balance of relief and tension is entrancing. For every charming story of family awkwardness, there is a shattered window and gusts scattering debris across the stage. Barron and director Howard Shalwitz give just enough comedic relief to keep the audience deeply invested as the world falls apart around this family, and there is no thinking about that real world outside of the theater.
Shalwitz leads a brilliant design crew to create the storm. Palmer Hefferan’s sound design is rich and realistic, but well balanced to never upstage the cast. Autum Casey’s sound design runs the gamut of day and night, indoors and out (even a scene lit by glow sticks, one lantern, and one candle) with ease.
Most unique are the models of the family’s home at multiple states of disrepair. At first, it is a doll house sitting center stage for Gabe to peer into with a God’s-eye-view. For much of the show, the now-damaged house actually hangs in midair, everything Gabe and Carol own suspended not unlike the sword of Damocles. Beyond the rich metaphors, the ingenuity of using the air above the actors as a place to keep this one-of-a-kind set piece is a leap in three-dimensional thinking that makes set designer James Kronzer’s otherwise minimalist set iconic.
The mostly bare set is also made dynamic and enthralling by Jared Mezzocchi’s video design. A tall projector screen looms upstage like a monolith imposing nature’s capricious will on the cast. Storms and trees and shots of a house shaking from wind all complete the play’s storm. However, Mezzocchi experiments with a few tricks that go unfortunately underdeveloped, like a moment of digital distortion or a minute of Kayden’s silhouette dancing in the rain while she sleeps in bed.
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Baby Screams Miracle
closes February 26, 2017
Details and tickets
Underdevelopment is a common theme throughout the show. To name a few instances, Cynthia is an amputee, but her prosthetic foot never hinders her during a natural disaster. Kayden is worryingly shy, but, aside from the perplexing projection midway through the play, this never changes. Most egregiously, Cynthia and her mother Carol are both pregnant, and yet it goes largely unremarked upon. Cynthia has a fiancée and Carol has a replacement daughter in Kayden, both of which receive more attention than Cynthia’s and Carol’s pregnancies and serve much the same purpose well, and yet it all adds up to many missed opportunities.
The one-act play could easily be expanded into two acts, but there is a devastating power in keeping the audience in the room until the storm has run its full course. Like only remembering midday that a dream you had was not real, it is easy to leave the theater well after bows and expect downed trees and black-outs.
It’s a testament to Shalwitz’s direction that the show’s reality totally eclipses our own. From strong production elements including novel use of space to an excellent cast diving deep into this play’s human vulnerability, Baby Screams Miracle is a wonderful devastation to behold.
Baby Screams Miracle by Clare Barron. Directed by Howard Shalwitz. Performed by Sarah Marshall, Kate Eastwood Norris, Cody Nickell, Caroline Dubberly, and Mia Rilette/Caroline Rilette (alternating nightly). Set design by James Kronzer. Costume design by Tyler Gunther. Lighting design by Autum Casey. Sound design by Palmer Hefferan. Video design by Jared Mezzocchi. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.