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A CurtainUp Review
Demon Baby

by Les Gutman

Bad things happen on nice days.
---Demon Baby

Heidi Schreck and Glenn Fleshler
H. Schreck and G. Fleshler
(Photo: Carl Skutch)
The first several scenes of Erin Courtney's new play seem so ordinary that one wonders how this work fits into Clubbed Thumb's stated mission of "developing and producing funny, strange and provocative new plays by living American playwrights". We are introduced to Art (Patrick McNulty) and Wren (Heidi Schreck), an American couple relocated to London due to his job. It's a very familiar story: Art adjusts seamlessly; Wren, a freelance children's writer, does not -- she becomes increasingly reclusive. We also meet several of their associates and new acquaintances, and some not-unanticipated sexual energy is evident. There is a party hosted by Cat (Nina Hellman), a Brit "character".

The energy shifts suddenly as Wren is confronted by Demon Baby (Glenn Fleshler). "Confronted" indeed: she meets the gnome-like creature as he sits on her prone body. His influence shifts her mental state, not necessarily for the better. Shortly, we will find her parading around the stage naked, attempting to "seduce" Alan (Gibson Frazier). ("I wanted to seduce you but didn't know how to do it," she tells him.) He squelches her ambitions, announcing he'd prefer her husband.

Briefly, the transition holds out some promise, but Courtney's script instead follows a remarkably ill-focused path that leads nowhere. Enduring the unimaginative set-up has no pay-off, and even the early promise of the Demon Baby is lost in a fog that rivals anything even Londoners have experienced. The only really funny moments in this show are the sight of the Demon Baby (mostly realized effectively by director Ken Rus Schmoll after blackouts), who also contributes the show's only foray into "strangeness". Nothing on display here qualifies as provocative -- by the 60 minute mark, the only thing provoked is tedium.

The greatest disappointment, perhaps, is that one can imagine an interesting play here; unfortunately, Courtney didn't write it, and one can only wonder what development to this process Clubbed Thumb offered. Demon Baby was workshopped twice by the company: in May 2002 as a part of Summerworks '02, and again in September 2002, in its New Play Boot Camp. Why did it never occur to anyone that there was no meaningful, much less interesting, story being told?

On the "up" side, there are some good performances here -- Schreck and Hellman especially, and Fleshler perhaps even more so. Mr. Schmoll's direction makes the production quite attractive (aided enormously by very fine set design by David Evans Morris and lighting design by Garin Marschall) and well paced. Though to no avail.

Demon Baby
by Erin Courtney
Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll
with Heidi Schreck, Patrick McNulty, Nina Hellman, Gibson Frazier, Leo Kittay, Polly Lee, Mark Shanahan and Glenn Fleshler
Set Design: David Evans Morris
Lighting Design: Garin Marschall
Costume Design: Kirche Leigh Zeile
Sound Design: Michael Newman
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes with no intermission
A production of Clubbed Thumb
Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster Street (Spring/Broome)
Telephone: (212) 868-4444
THURS - SUN @8 (additional performances MON 1/19 and 1/26 @8); $15, students $10
Opening January 9, 2004, closing January 31, 2004
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 1/9/04 performance

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