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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

'Be My Baby,' a winter winner in Vienna

Danny Issa and Casey Bauer star in Vienna Theatre Company's Be My Baby, a romantic comedy by Ken Ludwig/Photo by David Segal

I loved this play.  There's so much to love about it:  the humor and style, the story, the fun, the "important message." 

Consider it an early Valentine present from the Vienna Theatre Company, written by D.C.'s own Ken Ludwig, a lawyer by training, a playwright by passion.

The story is totally implausible, but it works.  In Scotland (why Scotland?) a young couple (Casey Bauer and Danny Issa) marry (a play with a wedding!  A surefire winner) but are unable to have children, so the bride's aunt (Allison Shelby) agrees to travel abroad, to California no less, with the groom's caretaker, a grumpy old man, a geezer (John Barclay Burns (related to Robert?)), to fetch a newborn for the childless couple, the baby of a relative who doesn't want the baby (?).  The mutual love the older couple shares is not.  (Did you get all that? Where do playwrights come up with these ideas?  Anyway, it's much simpler to follow than the way it appears here, and...)

The young couple (Gloria and Christy) are a real life young couple, girlfriend and boyfriend, so their "sizzle" is not pretense.  
From left, actors Allison Shelby, Erick Storck, and Danny Issa face Casey Bauer (the bride) and John Barclay Burns (in kilt) in Ken Ludwig's romantic comedy, Be My Baby, at the Vienna Theatre Company/Photo by David Segal

In Be My Baby, everyone does an admirable job of speaking with a Scottish accent (with no voice coach listed in the program) and Burns' accent is actually real (according to program notes), however, in the beginning, Ms. Bauer speaks a little too fast, and is sometimes hard to follow. (I found myself wishing she had a microphone, but perhaps her rapidfire delivery was first scene jitters.)

Ms. Shelby is beautiful and perfectly suited as a grandmother and caring relative, and Mr. Burns is dynamic, delivering zingers, but the two "ensembles," Eric Storck and Meg Hoover, come very close to stealing the show.  They portray several characters and vary their voice inflections and gaits to suit the fancy of a nurse, a flight attendant, bellman, preacher, judge, to name a few of their roles. (Kudos to the costume designer, Susan Devine.)

And for more content, how about some lines from "Scotland's favorite son," its national poet, Robert Burns (1759-1796), spoken in Be My Baby by the living Mr. Burns, such as "For whither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people...."?

The sets are simple and adequate.  Strollers and a baby carriage hang from the black ceiling to foretell the future (nicely designed by Suzanne Maloney, also the play's director). Everything is all black, save the mostly wooden structures:  a door frame, a bench, a table, a desk, a railing. In the second act, for some reason, props from earlier scenes remain and clutter up the stage, distracting from later scenes until they are removed. 

And who counted the scene changes?  They zoom by quickly, in and out, and no one will doze.

Particularly effective are Aunt Maud's first plane ride, and the opening car scene when Maud and Gloria ride together and move their bodies perfectly in time with each other and the car's rhythm.

The sound designer/composer Jonathan Powers does an outstanding job with constant baby cries, the noises from different vehicles (a car, a jet engine, a cruise ship's horn) and lots of 60s music brought back to life for those of a certain age.  (Mr. Ludwig celebrates his 65th birthday in March.)  I hereby nominate Mr. Powers for a "watchie" (Washington Area Theatre Community Honors).

At the end, the bride cries real tears, and I did, too, swept away by the moment.  Will Be My Baby have that effect on you?

On opening weekend, almost a sell-out.

Other key crew members: Laura Fargotstein, producer; Mary Ann Hall, stage manager; Micheal J. O'Connor, assistant stage manager; Tom Epps, lighting designer; Kimberly Crago, master electrician; John Vasko, master carpenter; Leta Fitzhugh, scenic artist; and Rachel Comer and Meghann Mirabile, prop masters. 

What:  Be My Baby by Ken Ludwig

When:  Jan. 30, 31 and February 6, 7 at 8 p.m., and February 1 and 8, at 2 p.m. 

Where: Vienna Theatre Company,120 Cherry Street, Vienna, VA 22180 (Vienna Community Center)

Tickets: $14

Parking: Lots of free parking on-site

For more information: 703-255-6360 or visit the website

Duration: Two hours with intermission

To read other local reviews of shows still playing, go to Other Reviews on DCMetroTheaterArts.

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