8/5/2019         BABYSHOWER FOR THE ANTICHRIST                                  Essential Theatre

         
RIPPING OUT THE HEART OF FRIENDSHIP

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, gather your Holy Water and sketch out a protective pentagram, because the four worshippers of the Dark Lord (PLEASE don’t call him “Satan”) are gathered in a comfortable Lake House to witness the Master’s birth.  And one more sacrifice is needed!

 

Such is the set-up for Atlanta Actor Ben Thorpe’s initial stab (pun intended) at playwrighting, Babyshower for the Antichrist, a dark comedy about friendship, motherhood, and finding just the right appetizer for that Hell Feast.  I may have some reservations about the result, but Mr. Thorpe’s acting roots are readily evidenced by his five sharply delineated characters, and his fast-paced dialogue that seems perfectly molded for these actors.

 

So, Reba, Dee, and Julie open the play with their “preparing the way” ritual, which, is kneecapped by the too-early slaughter of the sacrificial goat.  Enter Shelley, a bubbly young woman who is best friends with the expectant mother, Monica.  Shelly is here for a normal baby shower with balloons and cake and games.

 

MwaaHaHaHaaaaaaaaa!

 

What follows is a cat-and-mouse (wolf-and-goat?) sequence of events involving a feast of grizzly proportions, and the resurrection of long-past hurts and grudges that make Monica perfectly fine with facilitating the birth of her unholy child with the blood of her “friend.”

 

And, to the script’s credit, we are often left wondering if this a true unholy birth, or if it is just a cult of loony-tunes ladies with a taste for blood.  Sure, we hear an evil(ish) voice pretending to be a goat, but it’s made perfectly clear that that voice is just in the mind of Julie, the looniest tune of the lot.

 

Throughout the play, amidst a ton of dark humor, we are given a healthy helping of trenchant observations about friendship, about loss, about guilt, and even about #MeToo issues concerning rape and “who do I believe?” 

 

We are also given a lot of “padding” seemingly designed to stretch a 30-minute sketch to a long(ish) 75 minutes, tending to dilute too much of the humor.  The “Hell Feast” sequence, in particular, is static and monochromatic with little “increase in stakes.”  Yes, the grizzly servings are nice gags, but couldn’t they increase in intensity?  Couldn’t the scene, have built to make the final entrée the head of {Deleted by the Spoiler Police}?  That would have made for an intense moment that would ignite a rapid rush to the play’s admittedly effective resolution.

 

There is a lot to admire about this production, particularly the performances by the ensemble: Suzanne Roush as the leader, Reba, Gina Rickicki as the street-smart-and-surly Dee, Sarina Montgomery as the mother-to-be, and especially Taylor Bahin as the flakier-than-humanly-possible Shelley.  Madison Welch is a perfect contrast as the visitor, Julie, and her fresh-scrubbed good-girl appearance hides its own share of demons and regrets.  

 

I also need to give a shout-out to the tech contributions of Harley Gould on Lights and Kacie Willis on Sound, who together provide moments that elegantly straddle the morbid and mundane, the macabre and the banal.  I especially enjoyed the production of the goat-voice in Julie’s head.  Should we be concerned that there is no program credit for this voice?  I enjoy thinking that Ms. Willis dipped into the ectoplasmic ooze to find this character.

 

So, anyone who has seen (or read) Rosemary’s Baby may come away with a “Been-There Sacrificed-That” feeling, and Mr. Thorpe’s script cannot possibly compete with that standard, that memory.  But it is nevertheless a promising first work.  He already shows a promising talent for character and dialogue, and I’m sure, with practice, he can bring his structure and plotting skills up to that level.  I enjoyed this play enough that I anticipate with pleasure Mr. Thorpe’s next effort.

 

Babyshower For the Antichrist is a good companion piece to Slaying Holofernes, and deserves your attention, especially if your sense of humor falls on the dark side (Buffy and Preacher fans will be especially delighted. In a lightless way, of course.)  For my part, I will now certainly think twice before sitting down to eat at any gathering called by a friend I haven’t heard from I a while.

 

     --  Brad Rudy   (BKRudy@aol.com   @bk_rudy   #EssentialTheatre  #BabyShowerForTheAntichrist    #SupportNewGeorgiaPlaywrights)

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