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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
and designed as an 18th-century Restoration comedy (minus the
"Bag Babies" is chock-full of witticisms, broad humor, and
heavy-handed social commentary — all delivered at a break-neck
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
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
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
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
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
walks off with Elaine’s fur coat, and is chased around the penthouse
by a police officer (Dee Pelletier again) and Brad spews out
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
As a self-described "comedy of manners,"
Babies" sports most of the trappings of the genre, including
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
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
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.
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
like a smug preacher. As the master of ceremonies, often addressing
the audience directly, there is no other way into the story but
Although blasts of bad manners have become one of the rigors of
life, it is something we do best to either overlook or avoid.
it is inescapable. But "Bag Babies" is not. And it’s one I’d
— Jack Florek
215-785-0100. Performances continue through February 27. $25 to $29.
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