The Review: Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Bump
Ensemble Studio Theatre‘s new production in association with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science & Technology Porject titled Bump, is unfortunately, not quite ready to be born as of yet. This new play by Chiara Atik (Five Times in One Night) has some charming moments and, if given some more time to develop fully, a promising future. It has a professional, thoughtful cast, doing well with the baby they are given, but the structure and the layering of ideas still needs gestating. At this point, it’s a fetus in need of some more time, and as directed by Claudia Weill (Public’s Found a Peanut) they have found some enjoyably cute setups together, but the play itself hasn’t quite matured enough to be fully dilated. Some more work on this fine pregnancy is required before it is brought forth, possibly needing a great dramaturge to help nurture this baby in the womb, giving it a logical formation before Bump should come bouncing into this theatrical world.
This premature birthing isn’t dangerous though. It does has three interesting concepts and story lines that are layered together in order to tell a history of pregnancy and giving birth, and how not much has changed over the last 600 years. We are introduced first to the newly pregnant young woman, Claudia, portrayed solidly by Ana Noguiera (Off-Broadway’s Engagements) breaking the good news to her overjoyed parents. Father Luis played wonderfully by Gilbert Cruz (Roundabout’s Little Children Dream of God) and Mother Maria, wisely played by Adriana Sananes (Clurman’s Implications of Cohabitation) have no idea when they first open that box. It’s quite the engaging scene, enthusiastically played by all, creating an atmosphere worthy of the Vasquez family’s natural chemistry. Veering off the traditional stance, Claudia has made a very conscious decision to have a home birth assisted by a midwife in a birthing pool, something that doesn’t sit all that well with her parents. She is told, “You’re going to want to give birth surrounded by doctors in a hospital, trust me.” Claudia doesn’t agree.
CLAUDIA (pressing on): The nice thing about the birthing pool is that it has two seats, so Alex can actually get in with me and really participate in the process.
LUIS He’s going to get into the water with you??
CLAUDIA Yeah! He’s going to catch the baby.
Popping up behind them, in a poorly conceived attempt to showcase a computer screen and an online chat room, six women appear in a window when the shades are drawn back. They have all signed on to a pregnancy message board 5 weeks in, and are there to commiserate and support one another through their pregnancies. All do a fine job relaying unique personality types and engagement styles and all have character names of food items, which I guess is cute: Kristen Adele (59E59’s Desire) as Plum, Kelly Anne Burns (The Navigator) as Apple, Kelli Lynn Harrison (Thermodynamic’s Apocalypso) as Grapefruit, Susan Hyon (Ars Nova’s Cowboy Bob) as Walnut, Erica Lutz (Broadway’s Of Mice and Men) as Lemon, and Laura Ramadei (Lesser America’s Wyoming) as Avocado. I’m not sure why, but everything about this group seems adorable and sweet, charming and sometimes touching, but also overly sentimental, formulaic, and sitcom funny. I’m not sure how much they add to the dynamic except to illicit nods of connectivity and a few collective chuckles here and there, basically speaking to those women in the audience who are mothers and grandmothers. The one time this scenic creation by Kristen Robinson (Westport’s Rapture Blister Burn), with bland flat lighting by Gins Scherr (EST’s Finks) and fine sound work by M.L. Dogg (Broadway’s Oh, Hello) works relatively well, is the very funny and repetitious YouTube Guy, portrayed by the skilled Jonathan Randell Silver (EST’s Please Continue). I’m not sure how he does this task time and time again, just ask Cruz who fumbled his turn the night I saw it (and recovered easily and wisely), but even when muted, Silver astonishes.
The third storyline revolves around a very pregnant Mary, played with just the right amount of fearful sass by the very funny Lucy DeVito (BCP’s Steel Magnolias) and her midwife, played by the perfectly calm and no-nonsense Jenny O’Hara (Broadway’s female version of The Odd Couple). This is how its done in the Colonial Times, and as this birthing plays out, the formula is funny and finely structured but here lies the difficulty. The parallels to the other stories are not clear, and although the play is filled with moments that are trying to be cute and charming, like Claudia and her Mother’s facial reaction towards Luis’s thoughtful invention, the overall point of these overlapping stories remains at odds with the slightly pedestrian manner the play is being organized and presented. EST and their gang of directors needed to guide this production with a more solid helping hand; be that same inventive device that Luis manufactured, to help make this birthing process smoother and safer for Bump and the baby. As it stands right now, this is a difficult and messy birth induced before the baby is ready. Even when filled with some skillful acting and a foregone conclusion, the one act series of contractions is somewhat trying. Not bad or terribly painful, but it is unfocused bordering on a pedestrian and formulaic quality in its story telling. The story deserves some tightening up, and a good sound visit from a play doctor. The surprise here, especially for the generally very solid EST, is that Bump is a poor-man’s production, giving this world a baby months before it is ready to be born.