Running Amok

Babies With Rabies has an awesome title. It rhymes, for starters, and it has a delicious, campy, trashy-movie feel to it. Just hearing the title makes you think, "Oh, man! Babies with rabies! Running amok! So totally cool!"

But there are almost no babies with rabies in this production. Instead, there is an extraordinarily convoluted story about a play within a play (within the play), and a lot of shouting. As best as I can figure out, after a detailed examination of my notes and some informal diagramming, the plot of Babies With Rabies is this:

A writer (Erwin Falcon), a producer (Rob Moretti), and a group of actors are working on a play about the residents of an insane asylum who are putting on a play as part of their therapy. Some of the resident crazies plan to use this play to distract the guards and doctors so they can take over the asylum and allow their madness to achieve its fullest flowering. However, some of the residents are against this.

The play the inmates are putting on (the third-level play) is about a kingdom afflicted by a mysterious plague that attacks children and turns them, according to the script, into "crazed homicidal zombies" prone to "fits of cunning and terror." (Here, at last, are the babies with rabies.)

As written out, this story line would seem to promise, like the play's title, all sorts of wacky high jinks and high-camp melodrama. But the script, written by Jonathan Calindas (co-artistic director of Cuchipinoy Productions, which produced the show), begins in the middle of the action, with proclamations that the audience is about to see "a play that will blow your mind," a play that will "question what is real and what is pretend." And while it may be that my mind was blown, I found the show utterly baffling.

For starters, a number of the actors/patients are identified, at different times, by a) their actor names, b) their character's asylum ID number, and c) the names of the characters they are playing within the play. One of the characters (played by Dennis Lemoine) plays identical twins with reversed numbers (45 and 54) and rhyming names (Larry and Gary). Another (Andrew Rothkin) suffers from multiple personality disorder, meaning that he is constantly switching personas, from an unctuous giggler to a lisping Satan to Sigmund Freud.

With everyone in the cast playing so many roles, keeping track of who's who—and whether they are being "themselves" or performing in one of the other plays—is no easy task. Also, to underline the fact that these are bad actors portraying crazy people who are themselves bad actors, all of the lines are given a full-camp, full-volume treatment, punctuated with much dramatic gesturing.

Keeping track of what's going on is exhausting amid all the deafening talk. By the second act, when your ears have adjusted and the structures of the many plays within the plays start to become apparent, it's too late to become engaged. There are a few funny lines that send up absurd, pulp-movie conventions and Off-Off-Broadway. (Kelly Rauch, who portrays Tina, an actress inexplicably in possession of an Equity card, shouts, "I know this is Off-Off-Broadway and you're doing the best you can, and you don't have any money, but I'm not used to working under these conditions!") But these lines get buried in the wall of sound.

Babies With Rabies seems to have had ambitious goals. But with the weight of its plot machinations and the heavy-handedness of its subject matter, it never takes off. And there wasn't even a baby with rabies in sight. Now that's disappointing.

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