Anyone who’s ever been asked to plan a baby shower—or even attend one—will find plenty to love in Nina Braddock’s world premiere Untitled Baby Play, developed by IAMA Theatre and now playing at Atwater Village Theatre. It’s all here, from the self-appointed event chair to her nonresponsive committee member, from the baby-themed games and decorations to the minefields of gifts and carefully curated social media posts.
In Act One of Untitled Baby Play, Libby’s six former bridesmaids reunite to support her next life stage. Each appears against her own identity-revealing backdrop on the clever set by Cindy Lin. Director Katie Lindsay builds laughs, tension and depth as personalities and secrets reveal themselves. The friends veer toward frenemy territory and back again.
Communication is largely by narrated email in the first act, with plenty of funny and familiar references. College friend Penny (Sonal Shah) is indisputably in charge of the shower—mostly because no one else wants to do it. She’s the one who makes the to do list and then assigns tasks to Libby’s other friends when they don’t get back to her. She grows increasingly agitated as the bulk of the planning falls on her but really, given the history of the group, could it have gone differently?
Penny meets her sharpest opposition from Meredith (Laila Ayad), who seems to feel conflicted about celebrating her college friend’s pregnancy. Two of Libby’s childhood friends, Gillian (Courtney Sauls) and Eden (Sarah Utterback), are ambivalent about motherhood and offer up passive-aggressive comments while trying to deflect shower assignments. Libby’s other college friends are Natalia (Anna Rose Hopkins), an actress, and the only mother in the group, Clara (Jenny Soo), mostly seen looking depressed while a baby cries in the background.
The first act deftly combines subjects enduring and of-the-moment, from the meaning of womanhood and friendship to Instagram, Google Docs, Paperless Post and humblebragging. It’s comedic tinged with poignant, until the second act when the energy and humor fade. While Act One leaves the audience anxious to see the shower, Act Two takes place in a bathroom where the friends come and go, dealing with their own problems and reactions to what’s going on outside the bathroom door.
Hopkins and Soo have powerful second-act moments. Natalia, inspired by the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting, crafts an audition monologue tracking nine months of pregnancy that absolutely nails it. Clara describes the process of birth in all its guts and glory, leaving those who have gone through the experience nodding (and crying) in recognition.
The acting is universally excellent and Untitled Baby Play is undeniably a fulfilling theater experience. But as wonderful as these and some other moments are, Act Two feels like a disappointment after the electricity of Act One, and makes it clear that the show is too long. The gaps between high points lengthen. Just past the two-hour mark, the show begins to feel like a work in progress, as does the title. But with some judicious cutting in both acts, Untitled Baby Play could become a seminal look at an important life milestone.
Untitled Baby Play from IAMA Theatre runs through June 27 at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave. on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. June 13 is pay-what-you-can; June 16 is performed by understudies ( a wonderful idea). Running time is just over two and a half hours, including a 10-minute intermission. Free parking is available in a lot next to the theater and on the street. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased here.