I will always cherish plays, especially original plays, that have global majority actors be the leads in content that have nothing to do with their race/culture but rather other pressing issues of life, which in this particular case is an upcoming baby shower for a group of friends and the “baby question” that all the women in Nina Braddock’s Untitled Baby Play individually grapple with. Presented by IAMA Theatre Company and currently playing at the Atwater Village Theatre, the play does a tremendous job giving each of the ensemble members a chance to shine.
Six women find themselves trapped on an email chain as they plan their friend’s baby shower when IAMA Theatre Company presents Untitled Baby Play by Nina Braddock. Katie Lindsay directs the IAMA-developed world premiere for a five-week run, May 26 through June 27 at Atwater Village Theatre.
Libby is having a baby, and a group of friends is planning her shower over email. What starts out as a comedy of manners for the digital age deepens as her longtime friends from childhood and college deal with cyber miscommunications and email chain snubs, even as they face their own existential angst surrounding the “baby question.”
What makes this play particularly challenging for me to review is the deceptively long run time as it clocked in over 2 hours and 40 minutes (which includes a 15 minute intermission) during the performance I watched it in. The first act of the play is set up in the visual representation of an email chain gone haywire and while it was thoroughly entertaining to watch for the first 10 minutes, it quickly loses its appeal and drags on for the entire act where I lost attention of the play or even what it was about.
It is only when the format of the play completely changes for the second act that it finds its roots and us as the audience grappling onto the reality of the situation and the characters to care for. Well, almost. While the second act opens with the fantastic Anna Rose Hopkins performing her actor audition bit that is a knockout treat in all the magnificent ways, it serves little to push the story forward.
But once we set the rest of the second act in a bathroom of the baby shower party itself, the play and the rest of its characters shine and it is where I personally feel that the play truly begins. If the play was JUST this part, it would’ve benefited greatly in its simplicity, the less gimmicky writing which allows the characters to be just real, breathing human beings.
The ensemble cast is a strong powerhouse but the absolute standout goes to Jenny Soo who has a heart-wrenching monologue that she takes a massive swing and completely send its over to the moon. It is only a shame that her character is so vastly underutilized for the majority of the play but Soo makes every moment count, all the way up to the stunner of the second act monologue.
All in all, this was a very uneven play that was saved by its incredible second act and the performances of its actors. While I was not a fan of the gimmicky theme of its first act, I must give credit to the set designer Cindy Lin, lighting designer Dan Weingarten, properties designer Michael O’Hara, and sound designer/composer Andrea ‘Slim’ Allmond for creating together the fully realized world of chain e-mailing. Complete with Kate Lindsay’s directing and Nina Braddock’s writing, this was a wonderful setup… if only if it was condensed significantly.
• Written by Nina Braddock
• Directed by Katie Lindsay
• Starring Laila Ayad, Anna Rose Hopkins, Courtney Sauls, Sonal Shah, Jenny Soo, Sarah Utterback
• Presented by IAMA Theatre Company, Stefanie Black, artistic director
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: June 17, June 24
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: June 18, June 25
• Sundays at 3 p.m.: June 19, June 26
• Mondays at 8 p.m.: June 13, June 20, June 27
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
• FREE parking in the ATX (Atwater Crossing) lot one block south of the theater.
• General Admission (except previews and opening night): $35