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Critic: Jack Florek. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on February 23,

2000. All rights reserved.

Review: `Bag Babies’

Bad manners come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from

the annoying (never returning phone calls) to the mythical ("Mary

Mary strong and able…") to the downright gross (you name it).

Now, however, we are asked to pay for bad manners at Bristol Riverside

Theater’s premiere production of "Bag Babies" by Canadian

playwright Allan Stratton. Calling itself a "comedy of bad

manners,"

and designed as an 18th-century Restoration comedy (minus the

bawdiness),

"Bag Babies" is chock-full of witticisms, broad humor, and

heavy-handed social commentary — all delivered at a break-neck

pace.

The show begins with a filthy rich couple, Dick and Jane Jones (Peter

J. Macon and Natalie Kaye Arazi), in their New York City penthouse,

cooing about their new business venture, "Having With Heart,"

and speaking exclusively in rhymed couplets. Soon they are joined

by an equally rich and quirkier couple, Rick and Elaine (rhymes with

Dick and Jane), who also couplet. It seems that Rick and Elaine are

in need of some "image restructuring." They suffer from the

social stigma that commonly plagues the wealthy — always appearing

to be greedy, callous, insensitive, and selfish. That this might be

true is beside the point.

The idea behind the Jones’ "Having With Heart" makes an

extreme

sport out of the public relations business. Based on the such fad

items as Beanie Babies and Cabbage Patch Kids, Dick and Jane’s plan

is for the rich to adopt "Bag Babies," i.e. poor homeless

persons from the streets. By caring for them (always at an arm’s

distance),

and donating various necessities of life to their personal bag baby

(such as kitchen appliances), and always being careful to do it in

front of paparazzi or television cameras, "Having With Heart"

is designed to enhance the self-esteem of the rich as well as improve

their social standing, their posture, and even their wealth. Of

course,

Rick and Elaine (Kenneth Boys and Dee Pelletier) quickly buy into

the scheme and the fun begins.

But a fly appears in the ointment. Jane’s long-missing Uncle George

(Nick Ullett) turns up on the Jones’ doorstep and worms his way into

their lives by threatening to publicly expose them as liars and

frauds.

After all, how can "Having With Heart" have much of a heart

if even its owners allow their own flesh and blood to live like a

bum on the streets? Dick and Jane allow themselves to be bullied.

Soon George, who has a big heart after all, has the penthouse bubbling

over with his street-person friends, Bag Baby Brad and Bag Baby Alice

(also played by Kenneth Boys and Dee Pelletier). After Alice

mistakenly

walks off with Elaine’s fur coat, and is chased around the penthouse

by a police officer (Dee Pelletier again) and Brad spews out

schizophrenic

ramblings to invisible people, old Elgin Marbles (Kenneth Boys) is

rolled on in his wheelchair and offers his skewed perspective on the

proceedings. The play closes with a song, a speech, and the unfurling

of banners.

As a self-described "comedy of manners,"

"Bag

Babies" sports most of the trappings of the genre, including

satire.

A multitude of slammed doors, pratfalls, mistaken identities, and

type-cast characters fill the stage. Also, the superficiality of the

rich and their cynical attempts to manipulate the poor is behind much

of the comedy.

Yet the satire here becomes heavy handed. By the third scene, the

moral has already been laid down so thick it sticks in the throat.

In this play, the rich are always pompous and stupid and the poor

are always noble. "Bag Babies" makes this point clear —

over and over again. And although the dialogue is spiked with

witticisms,

Stratton’s play tries too hard to be a kind of call-to-arms in a class

war, complete with blaring music and goofy banners proclaiming the

need for freedom and entitlement for the poor. All this adds to the

general ickiness. By the end, one wants to go home and floss one’s

teeth.

Peter J. Macon, Natalie Kaye Arazi, and Dee Pelletier perform their

roles with workman-like precision but little fire. Mimi Bassinger,

as a jet-set television hostess, seems to have the most fun on stage,

and successfully bubbles her way through an overlong monologue.

Kenneth

Boys is the best of the lot, adding pace and nuance to his multiple

roles. It is delightful to watch him as he adds real individuality

to each character he portrays.

Nick Ullet as Uncle George is just plain irksome. Every word out of

his mouth is highlighted with a sanctimonious air and a raised

eyebrow,

like a smug preacher. As the master of ceremonies, often addressing

the audience directly, there is no other way into the story but

through

him.

Although blasts of bad manners have become one of the rigors of

everyday

life, it is something we do best to either overlook or avoid.

Sometimes

it is inescapable. But "Bag Babies" is not. And it’s one I’d

avoid.

— Jack Florek

Bag Babies, Bristol Riverside Theater, Bristol,

215-785-0100. Performances continue through February 27. $25 to $29.


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