Finding one's way into playwright Christopher Durang's emotional illogic is a challenge that makes this surreal comedy of family psychosis always worth reviving, and director Max Cabot's actors are up to the task. His dynamic production delights in the inconsistencies of characters who scream one moment and coo the next. This cast becomes more recognizable and grounded the further out of control its characters spin. As a result the second act far outstrips the promise of the first, revealing wilder comedy with a more bitter edge.
Joni Efflandt and Christopher Spencer play Helen and John Dingleberry, the insane, Nyquil-swigging parents of a son named Daisy. From the start, they get the comedy most out of their characters' erratic ways. Efflandt is an excellent screamer, and her violent, unexpected assaults shake the spine of Spencer's ineffectual, addicted John. It isn't until Act Two, however, with Helen at her most angry and John in vodka-induced delusions, that these characters come into sharp focus. With the comedy escalating, we get a sense (if belatedly) of the couple's fear and regret, and we begin to understand, as Daisy later tells his therapist, that Helen and John really do "mean well."
Feeding the frenzy of these two is the Dingleberrys' Nanny, a deranged Mary Poppins figure, here played by Chris Mock. Cabot made a wise choice in casting Mock (who plays the part in drag). His Nanny is a scene-stealer, a hilarious mix of deviousness and maternity enlivened by the actor's unique sense of humor.
Keith J. Ferguson plays Daisy as a young man and, in the late scene with his parents, delivers one of the production's funniest moments. The time jumps during Daisy's therapy monologues are nicely drawn by lighting designer Fredrick Winslar, and Ferguson makes the transitions in like form. Amy Thiel and Melody Mooney play multiple roles. Thiel is most memorable as a ditzy Woman in the Park; Mooney plays two ends of the spectrum as an ordinary concerned mom and Daisy's demented school principal.
Along with his lighting designer, Cabot has managed to fill and define the theatre's cavernous space. Michael Johnson provides a simple set designed for easy scene changes. Brash costumes and makeup (uncredited) help trace characters' mental climates.
"Baby With the Bathwater," presented by the Nomad Theatre Company at the 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., N. University Park, L.A. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Aug. 10-Sept. 8. $15. (310) 569-6179.