Audience Review: BIRTH AND AFTER BIRTH at Players Club of Swarthmore

by Patricia Bradford

Nicky is turning 4 today! His parents are excited, overwhelmed, barely up to the task, and eager to thrust the joys of child rearing on their childless friends. Sound like the basis for a heartwarming domestic tale? Director George Mulford will quickly show you how difficult little ones can be. Especially when they’re not that little. Tina Howe’s absurdist BIRTH AND AFTER BIRTH hits notes that will ring true with any parent. Or anyone who knows a rabidly proud parent. Or who has ever encountered a child. Grab your grape juice and buckle into your car seat – here comes a crazy ride through parenthood.

Moms will immediately sympathize with mom Sandy Apple (Donna Kelly Romero). It’s almost time for Nicky’s party and it’s pretty obvious which parent has done most of the prep work. Romero captures the exhausted, wired mom with a mission vibe, her motions both frantic and exhausted as she tries to keep husband Bill (Anthony San Filippo) focused on the task at hand. Bill, however, is more interested in playing with his toys – in this case, camera equipment – than helping his wife. San Filippo is exuberant and maddening, a husband so convincing that ladies in the audience may be tempted to smack him. Oh, we have met you before, Bill. However, we have never met a child quite like Nicky (Jim Fryer). Nicky is a big lad for his age but as demanding and oblivious as any four year old. This is Fryer’s show to steal, and he does, playing everything from a huggable moppet, to Ronald Reagan, to a petulant brat, and back again. A subtle performer in an over the top show, he is able to project Nicky’s youth and innocence with an honesty that never overreaches. Who wouldn’t want a child like Nicky?

Party guests Mia Freed (Aimee Theresa) and Jeffrey Fried (David E. Griffith) are happy to celebrate with the Apples; they are anthropologists who study children without any sense of actually understanding them. Aimee Theresa’s Mia is warm and approachable and she displays wonder at the idea of childbirth and a touch of curiosity, which is then noted and exploited by her hosts. Jeffrey, on the other hand, is remote in his study, examining children from afar as if they were slated for an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Griffith’s measured delivery helps to show how distance he is from any true interaction with children. He seems to process children best as an afterthought, viewed one static frame at a time. Parent Bill is only slightly better, eager to process his son on video, capturing the moment and motion without having to respond to it.

And the game is afoot, pitting the pro-child faction against the wishes of the childless to remain childless with poor Nicky the focus of the debate but not of anyone’s attention. All he wants is his party! Everyone frequently talks at once, creating an environment with all voices and no ears to hear them. Each of the five people compete for attention and an audience, employing masks, physical dexterity, and magic tricks in a fast moving prop frenzy – this was not an easy show to stage and get right. But they did it. Enjoy! And PS, don’t bring the kids.

BIRTH AND AFTER BIRTH runs weekends through April 15th. Tickets are $10 and it is always smart to order your tickets online ahead of time as seating is limited.

Players Club of Swarthmore (Second Stage), 614 Fairview Ave, Swarthmore, PA 19081

Players Club of Swarthmore

Review submitted by:
Anne Lannak

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