11/18/2021     HIGH RISK, BABY!                                       Essential Theatre Festival

THE EYES OF THE CHILD (WITHIN)

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In my 2011 review of Lisa Kron’s 101 Humiliating Stories, I described actress Shelby Hofer as a treasure, echoing an opinion I wrote about her 2006 performance in Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates.  Both those plays were monologues in which Ms. Hofer commanded the stage and kept audiences focused and engaged.

 

Now she has written a monologue herself and performed it in a criminally too-short two-night run as part of the 2021 Essential Theatre Festival.  High Risk, Baby! takes the very adult subject of Infertility and examines it through the eyes of a child.  It is a risky approach, but it pays off in a wealth of irony, humor, pathos, and sensitivity.

 

Lenora is child bursting with questions, with picking at the scab of “things I don’t know I don’t know,” and, especially, with babies – where they come from, how they are made, what she can do to get one in her belly.

 

But the thing is, she is not really a child.  She is an adult pretending to be a child, “going through the motions” of being a child, sharing with us the adventure of conceiving a child when her own eggs are not cooperating.   And it is Ms. Hofer’s own story – she and her husband did travel to the Ukraine to take advantage of an egg donor and an experimental process that resulted in the child who is now a 13-year-old young man, apparently filled with energy and questions.

Lenora the child is hysterically naive about all things reproductive, and Lenora the adult is filled with a bemused affection for her younger self.  It is a juxtaposition that explodes with anergy, vividly bringing Ms. Hofer’s own adventure to life, almost daring us to NOT empathize with her focus and her goal.  That we get to play games along the way, answer (or try to answer) her childlike questions (and react to her adultlike responses to our answers), and  even sing along with her just makes the entire short evening zip by as if on ADHD time.  That it ends with a sobering question from Lenora’s growing son in no way diminishes the joy that has been unfolding from the opening moment.

 

The set is a child’s room, complete with toys, games, boxes, gewgaws, and viewing screens – yes there will be videos.  There’s even an “:Invisible Playmate,” a puppeteer in black who animates things and makes sure all the props are where they need to be just when Lenora calls for them  

 

As directed by the brilliant Ellen McQueen, High Risk, Baby! is a compelling monologue that takes us on a journey few of us will ever need, few of us will ever experience.  By the same token, it shows us that the most adult thing we could ever do is to look at a problem through the eyes of a child, to strip away all the adult defenses that keep that inner child safe, to give that inner child room to breathe, to play, and to not grow.

 

Did I mention that Shelby Hofer is a treasure?

 

     -- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com   @bk_rudy    #EssentialFestival   #HighRiskBaby)