Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Kutumba Theatre Project: Baby GirL (4 reviews)

The Kutumba Theater Project opened its inaugural production of Baby GirL, a new play by Kim Ehly, at Empire Stage on July 13, 2012.
A new dramedy written by local actress Kim Ehly asks “What if you were conceived twice in one lifetime: once by the illegitimate passionate sex of a young couple in love, and next by a “missionary position” lovemaking…, conservative couple who long to have a child but the “little guys” never make it to the egg? What if you were adopted by the married couple, only to find out you are everything they can’t stand? After coming out as a lesbian and being alienated by her adoptive family, Ashley, a spirited young daydreamer, goes on an extraordinary journey to find love and a place to call home.
Kim Ehly directed a cast that included Sally Bondi, Clay Cartland, Miki Edelman, David R. Gordon, Noah Levine, Nori Tecosky, Jessica Welch, and Lindsey Forgey

Michelle Petrucci reviewed for BroadwayWorld:
Kim Ehly has a valid and relevant story to tell here, but the comedic moments ring truer than the most dramatic. Although handled with care by both actor and director, there were merely slight sparks of honesty and poignancy hitting their marks throughout the evening.

Lindsey Forgey drives this play as Ashley... While completely believable in the role, her interactions with... funny man Clay Cartland and the witty Jessica Welch were the most dynamic. Local favorite Sally Bondi does what she does best with her motherly quirks that almost always land the punchline.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Ehly’s vision, faith and persistence have paid off. Baby GirL is sweet, funny, touching, unsettling, tender. It’s an artistic offspring that would make any playwright proud.

Doubling as director, Ehly delivers a fact-inspired, imaginative piece about a young lesbian named Ashley.
Ehly’s writing and Forgey’s playfully appealing performance make Ashley pretty much irresistible.
Ehly also gets strong work in multiple roles from the seven other actors in her cast. Bondi plays Ashley’s adoptive and birth mothers, the second a cautionary tale about being careful what you wish for. Gordon is adoptive dad and bio mom’s second hubby. Cartland and Noah Levine are funny as they morph into a variety of characters, straight and gay, and Tecosky and Jessica Welch play various women in Ashley’s life. Miki Edelman gives a master class in versatility, playing a loving grandma, a bitter and suspicious aunt, and other distinctive women who help Ashley on her path to self-discovery.

Ehly makes a persuasive case for looking beyond blood bonds to find family in those who love us. And in Baby GirL, she makes an impressive play-writing debut.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
For all the worries about South Florida theater, one encouraging sign is the emergence of tiny companies bent on producing thoughtful and entertaining evenings of theater with little more on the balance sheet than intelligence, imagination and enthusiasm.
Which brings us to the pleasant surprise that is Kim Ehly’s touching and rollicking play Baby GirL, the inaugural effort of her newly-minted Katumba Theatre Project in association with Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale.

Like all first efforts, it needs a bit of work. But this wryly comic look at a young lesbian searching for her birth mother is an infectiously endearing tale of how we make our own families.
Ehly the playwright also benefits mightily from the play being staged by Ehly the director. She obviously has a dead-on feel for pacing the play properly, for physical movement, for the quirky humor she intended and knows the value of ending scenes with an instantaneous blackout as punctuation.
The show’s virtues include an eight-member cast whose enthusiasm is contagious. Forgey, the leading lady at several Slow Burn Theatre Company musicals, is an appealing protagonist, narrating her life to us with a benevolent grin at the foolishness of her own actions and those around her.

The other actors play multiple roles, relishing the absurd stretches in characterizations that they slip on and off, such as Nori Tecosky and Jessica Welch portraying lovers, friends and bed partners. Noah Levine and Clay Cartland, in particular, deliver a rogue’s gallery of wacky and whacked out friends and relatives. But the true chameleon of the group is the old hand Miki Edelman who skillfully delineates five distinct women ranging from a nasty embittered aunt to a nurturing grandmother. It’s not just that the characters are all separate entities, but every one is believable even when they’re meant to border on being cartoonish.
At the risk of sounding paternalistic, another pleasure is the production’s complete comfort with the heroine’s sexuality. It’s not a matter of angst other than the comic adolescent confusion and the telling-the-family crises. Ashley and her friends have no self-consciousness at physically expressing their desires and affection. It puts sexuality in its proper perspective as an element of Ashley’s life but not the central drama. That feels liberating for the audience regardless of their sexuality.
The production still needs work. Several key plot points aren’t immediately clear although there has been no attempt to be ambiguous...  Further, the play comes to an end like Wiley E. Coyote running into a brick wall. Thematically, the idea in the finale makes sense, but the audience is shaking its head at the 30-second scene, wondering, “Is that it? Is it over?” We need a little more substance to our closure.

But Baby GirL is worth making an effort to see.
Michelle F. Solomon wrote for miamiartzine:
Perhaps it’s an assumption to say that when a playwright writes a semi-autobiographical piece, its characters have a little more heart and soul. There’s just something that resonates and hits a bit closer to the bone... Kim Ehly’s play is so successful in reaching in and grabbing so many emotions that in the span of under two hours you’ve empathized, sympathized, shed a tear or two, laughed more than a little, and discovered that somehow you, too, have become part of the family she’s created.
Ehly, who is a well-known actress on the local scene, understands how to create rich characters, and as a director, also shows that she knows how to work with her actors to give the characters the depth necessary to make this play work well. And work well it does.

Forgey, who was so good as Little Red in Slow Burn Theatre’s recent Into the Woods, commands the stage as Ashley, revealing so much vulnerability as the character that you can’t help but like her. Sally Bondi, playing the dual roles of adoptive mother and birth mother, has to play opposite ends of the spectrum and does so with skill. Clay Cartland, Jessica Welch, Nori Tecosky, Miki Edelman and Noah Levine also have their hands full playing 25 characters between them, but each inhabits their roles so that all are fully portrayed. David R. Gordon plays the affable father and the birth mother’s new husband, with an easy charm.

While there are a couple of tweaks needed... these are minor flaws. Ehly shares pieces of her life in Baby GirL and what she ends up delivering is a very original play that’s cause for celebration.
Kutumba Theatre Project presents Baby GirL at Empire Stage through August 5, 2012.

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