Christopher Durang is at his most disturbing when he's at his funniest. This play is no exception to his generally absurdist, always satirical, anarchic view of life as seen through a dangerously comical scrim. The playwright has the extraordinary, not to mention courageous, ability to take a perfectly ordinary situation—in this case a child's upbringing—and skew it ever so slightly in the direction of ludicrous by making his characters behave as people might if the societal constraints of a reasonably ordered world were peeled away. The madness his plays subscribe to is so highly sophisticated that one begins to wonder if the characters possibly have some hold on a different reality that is beyond the grasp of ordinary people.
Helen (Alison Robertson) and John (Brian Boone), after the birth of their baby, have obviously skimmed the covers of several comic books devoted to pop psychology, and knelt at the altar of daytime TV talk shows, but the impression left on them is the equivalent of white crayon scratches on equally white paper. Missing from their lifestyle lexicon are seemingly basic concepts, such as what constitutes a boy baby and how to distinguish him from a girl baby. Neither seems to have made it as far as even the sugar-and-spice and slugs-and-snails session that comes right after the introductory "Look what the stork brought, honey!" session in Life 101. To their utter amazement, even after a convenient Nanny (Madison Cruz) thrusts herself into their lives, and various teachers and psychologists (Sheridan Murphy, Kathryn Bundy, Frankie Kane, Callie Holmes, and Lana Ford) do their worst, their child, Daisy (Donovan Holden), just won't conform to what a girl should be. Holden is a treat as the abject Daisy who, after a lifetime of name changes and 35-plus years of therapy, finds himself a father, as blank about the methodology of child raising as his parents were. Fortunately, his wife, Susan (Patricia Phelan), seems to have fallen out of the same tree. Robertson is blithe and engaging as the mother who should've chosen another profession, and Cruz makes a feisty Nanny.
All the performances are good and nicely understated—thanks presumably to director Tom Barnes, who understands exactly how absurdist farce should play out. The awkward stage at the Hudson Avenue Theatre provides its own hurdles, with divergent sight lines and huge pillars posted in inconvenient places, so depending on where you are seated, there's always one portion of the stage that's out of eye range. Nevertheless, the laughs are well in place, and the large cast keeps the comedy coming.
"Baby With the Bathwater," presented by Off Hollywood Theatre Company at the Hudson Avenue Theatre, 6537 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Mon. 8 p.m. Jan. 29-Feb. 26. $10. (323) 851-9305.