Sins of Fathers and Mothers
Rare is the week I pick up an Orange County Register for anything other than the Help Wanted ads, but I must admit to actually thumbing through the paper last week and lighting upon an article that provoked something other than mild disgust. "X'd Out" was the headline of the piece by OC staff writer Stephen Lynch. Though it veered precipitously close to the whiny no-one-takes-us-seriously-even-though-we-made-the-Internet-what-it-is tone of so many of the essays written by my peers (roughly those born between 1963 and 1981), it was still an articulate portrayal of how it seems we're fated to a lifetime of economic and cultural shafting, squeezed between the baby boomers and their anointed successors, the so-called Generation Y or Millennial Generation.
The most interesting aspect of Lynch's article focused on parenting. To paraphrase: the baby boomers single-handedly discovered the right way to parent. If you're an older Gen-X'er, think back on the 1970s and 1980s. Problems like school violence, drug use and teenage pregnancy were essentially the fault of misguided teenagers who, more than anything, needed a kick in the ass to straighten them out. Not today. Today's teenagers are by and large the much-loved offspring of baby boomers; as heirs to the earth, they can do no wrong. Blaming children for being little retarded fuck-ups with a vicious mean streak is out; coddling them and excusing every sin on grounds of social influence—TV, video games, inflammatory music (most of which is produced by companies founded or run by baby boomers, but let's not mention that)—is in.
Which leads us, somehow, to Christopher Durang's mean-spirited little play Baby With the Bathwater,receiving a dishearteningly anemic production by Fullerton's Theatre Whereabouts. We can commend the group for tackling a play as satirical and brutally funny as this one (child abuse is merely one of the taboo subjects skewered in Durang's work). But the play just doesn't fit the theater's abilities or (judging by the night I saw it) its audience's interests. For all the audience response, a blind man might've assumed the theater's seats were empty.
Though the direction is aimless and amateurish and the technical elements some of the worst I can remember (note to the people in the booth: we can hear every word you say, including the feverish Go!s every time the lights are supposed to go on), there is just enough right about the acting to illuminate some of the more substantive bits of Durang's script, which basically sums up the aforementioned boomer-parenting arc. Though Daisy, the sexually confused and morally ambivalent boy at the play's center, was abused, ignored, ridiculed and given nothing but bad advice by his parents, at the play's end, he's determined not to visit the sins of his parents upon his own child.
Good luck, Daisy. In Durang's twisted world, where malevolence is ever so cheerful, you can't really trust anybody.
At the play's beginning, Helen (Juliet Grainger) and John (Brian Harvey) are cooing above a white bassinet, where their newborn is resting. It soon becomes clear that though Helen and John appear normal enough (read: white and middle class), they have no business producing another life. She's a depressed, erratic neurotic; he's an unemployed, alcoholic neurotic. Their personality disorders—along with the militaristic impulse of an equally crazed English nanny (Leslie Williams) and the eccentric ramblings of a stranger (Ramlah Frediani) whose baby was just eaten by her dog—are soaked up by the as-yet-unnamed baby, who is shaken, stolen, stirred, thrown under buses, nearly dropped out of a window and given a lead toy.
It's all ludicrously satirical, but the genius of Durang's brutal satire is its genuine sadness. No parent would treat his or her child this way, but the child is absorbing every slight and processing every conflict in its evolving, hyperkinetic mind.
In the second act, we see the toll that Daisy's fucked-up childhood has exacted. Daisy is actually a male, something his parents never seemed to care too much about, and like his parents, he's a neurotic sexual predator with absolutely no clue about life. As the grown-up Daisy, Michael Leon delivers a fine performance, nailing his character's anger, confusion and loneliness. More than anything, you keenly feel Daisy's isolation; he can't even begin to investigate the claims of his own soul, thanks to the two soulless individuals who gave him life and breath.
But like any good boomer, Durang is a closet sentimentalist. His play ends on what, for him, is a positive note: though Daisy doesn't love the woman who has given birth to his child, he likes her enough. And though he can't remember the real words to the lullaby he awkwardly croons to his newborn, he at least tries to make some up. Those fumbling efforts toward humanity put him whole evolutionary epochs ahead of his parents.
As social satire, Durang's play is uncomplicated. The generational types are self-evident: Daisy's parents are members of the World War II or Silent Generation who sharpened their teeth on the Depression, fought the Glorious War and then returned to earth. What they really needed was lots of R&R to discover who the hell they were. What they did instead was shit out kids at an alarming rate and give them everything—except, Durang suggests, genuine love and understanding.
So the boomers grew up, if the sweeping generalization can be believed, with this weird sense of entitlement but also barely submerged anger toward their parents. Determined to correct every wrong—they are the only generation that matters, right?—once the boomers began having kids, they were determined to produce in their children the same sense of entitlement coupled with all the love and understanding they could lavish upon their perfect little angels. And Daisy's baby, born in 1983—the year the play was first produced—is the recipient of all that.
Today, Daisy's baby would be 18—if he or she survived public school, designer drugs, extreme sports, Jackass, crystal meth, shitty third-generation punk, white-trash rap, 'NSync, Nintendo, MTV and all those other wonderful accoutrements of teenage life at the turn of the century. Just keep your eyes and ears peeled for the clues the next time a teen goes apeshit with a gun at school—the kid who was bullied or harassed, who watched too much TV or played too many video games, or who was too fat or too slow or too ugly. This is the boomers' worst nightmare come to life. No matter how wonderful their intentions or how benevolent their dreams, some kids—like some people, like some dogs, like some apples—are just fucked-up and can't be reached. And that may be the future the boomers are dying to grant to their offspring—except that it has always been here, in full Technicolor glory.
Excuse me while I get stoned for the next 20 years.
Baby With the Bathwater at Theatre Whereabouts, 112 E. Amerige Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-1517. Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 p.m. Through May 6. $9.75-$13.50.
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