Thursday, May 17, 2018

11 (2018-2019): Review: BUMP (seen May 14, 2018)

“Bottle Babies”

Dollars to diapers, the first thing a lot of people attending Bump, Chiara Atik’s surprisingly entertaining, if frequently bumpy new comedy about childbirth, will do when then they get home is try to extract a cork from inside a slender wine bottle without damaging the bottle or cork.

Ana Nogueira, Adriana Sananes, Gilbert Cruz. Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
That’s because, at repeated times during the play (at the Ensemble Studio Theatre), there’s a reenactment of a YouTube video showing, as does this one, how such a seemingly impossible feat can be easily accomplished by what seems little more than a parlor trick. Simply roll a plastic bag so it can be inserted into the bottle, blow into the bag, pull it out, and voila! the cork will come out with it!

Weird as it sounds, precisely such a video actually inspired an Argentinian auto mechanic, Jorge Odon, to invent a device that borrowed the same principle so it could be used during difficult births to extract babies from the womb. Experimenting in his garage with a glass jar and one of his daughter’s dolls, he came up with a prototype for the Odon Device, whose initial tests proved highly successful and gained the attention of the medical community.

According to the program, a firm called Beckton Dickinson and Company “will next pursue a randomized pivotal clinical trial before potential clinical practice.” It’s fascinating stuff and you can learn more about it in this illustrated article.

Instead of presenting this scientific breakthrough in docudrama style, Atik tells the story through a sitcom-like family she invents: Luis (Gilbert Cruz), the father; Maria (Adriana Sananes), his wife; and Claudia (Ana Nogueira), their pregnant daughter (whose husband, oddly, never appears). The up-to-date Claudia shocks her conventional parents by insisting she doesn’t want to give birth in a hospital but rather at home in a pool of water.

Soon, Luis finds himself experimenting with his "Vasquez device," inspired by the video, demonstrating it to his skeptical family in their living room (a functional space designed by Kristen Robinson and lit by Gina Scheer).
Lauren Ramadai, Gilbert Cruz, Kelli Lynn Harrison, Susan Hyon. Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
Being an enthusiastic salesman, who strongly believes in his product, he introduces it to Claudia’s doctor, which leads to professional attention. The scene where he demonstrates the procedure to women in the doctor’s waiting room with a jar and a doll, allowing them to try it for themselves, is a hilarious highlight.
Erica Lutz, Kelly Anne Burns, Susan Hyon, Laura Ramadai, Kristen Adele, Kelli Lynn Harrison. Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
Under Claudia Weill’s sprightly direction, the tone is consistently light and upbeat, made even lighter—and more informative—by the structural device of having Claudia communicate online with other pregnant women via a message board. To show this, the vertical blinds on the wide window behind the sofa are pulled aside to represent a laptop screen. There, seen from the belly up, is a diverse group of women—played by Kristen Adele, Kelly Ann Burns, Kelli Lynn Harrison, Susan Hyon, Eric Lutz, and Laura Ramadei—called Plum, Apple, Grapefruit, etc., in the program. (The “screen” also is used to show the YouTube guy [Jonathan Randell Silver] doing his cork-in-the-bottle thing.)

At various times during the fast-paced 90 minutes, these women and their growing bumps appear, discussing typical pregnancy questions, like those about epidurals. Almost all of these online sessions—except for when a prospective mother has a setback—are done in jokey fashion, sprinkled with a ton of WTF’s (both the acronym and the words).
Lucy DeVito, Jenny O'Hara. Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
Perhaps feeling a need to bump up her story, Atik introduces an unnecessary parallel plot showing Mary (Lucy DeVito), a near-term woman during colonial times, preparing to have a baby with the help of a businesslike midwife (Jenny O’Hare). Humorous as it sometimes is, the scene adds little to our knowledge of childbirth procedures, shedding no light on Luis’s invention nor revealing little not still practiced by today’s midwives.

In fact, after I got home, I tried the cork trick (not as easy as I'd thought) and (coincidentally) watched Episode 2 of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Its spectacularly midwifed birth scene looked almost like a macro version of the intimate one in Bump, even down to the birthing mother’s walking around before popping her cork.

Bump benefits from a uniformly qualified cast bringing its two-dimensional characters to comic life in Suzanne Chesney's delightful costumes. Cruz scores strongly as the charmingly ambitious inventor, as do Sananes as his supportive wife and Nogueira as his initially resisting daughter. Each member of the ensemble brings a distinct personal touch to their contributions, including Silver as the YouTube guy who must repeat his spiel the same way, but at different volume levels, several times. And DeVito, who displays the comedic genes she got from her funny parents (guess who), is well supported by O'Hara's no-nonsense midwife.

One could also question why Bump dramatizes the invention of a technical breakthrough by creating fictional characters and not—program notes aside—somehow crediting the actual Argentinian who invented the device. Nonetheless, Atik has found a comically effective way to educate audiences about a method that may one day revolutionize how troubled births are handled. And that, if it happens, will be one hell of a parlor trick.


Ensemble Studio Theatre
545 W. 52nd St., NYC
Through June 3