Rachel looks appalled from the moment she opens the door to Wanda’s cramped Louisiana trailer. She is appalled that the trailer is sweltering, appalled that Wanda’s idea of lunch is a slice of American cheese on white bread, but most of all, appalled that the precious baby she hopes to one day call her daughter is in this trailer park woman’s stomach. The stage is set for Jane Anderson’s The Baby Dance, a gripping and heartrending drama that examines the rollercoaster experience of an open adoption and the emotional havoc it wreaks on everyone involved.
There is a lot of dancing in this story. Wanda (Suzie Cho) and her husband, Al (James Michael Farrell) dance around the issue that after four kids they are too poor to support a fifth. Film studio executives Rachel (Maria Riboli) and Richard (John Stanisci) dance around the uncomfortable fact that Al is taking advantage of their situation, especially when he tries to pass off a new Corvette as one of the pre-natal expenses they are obligated to pay.
But at the heart of the story is a dance between two women: Wanda and Rachel, one who always wanted a baby and the other who has more than she ever wanted. Rachel is jittery and appropriately horrified by the conditions her future baby is subjected to.
Riboli is fully believable as a seemingly together woman quickly unraveling in a world far outside her comfort zone. When Wanda offers Rachel a seat at her kitchen table, she slides into it with all the apprehension of easing into an electric chair, fingering her necklace, fanning her face, and wondering whether to cross or uncross her arms.
Wanda’s guard is also up. She has a gracious smile but sharp, distrusting eyes, as if daring Rachel to judge her. Having already raised four children it is awkward for her to have someone looking at the bulge in her belly as if it were a puppy in a window she can’t wait to take home.
Cho and Riboli have a natural chemistry with each other. They fill up the stage with their personalities, drawing you into their world. Watching them, you can feel the scorching sun, taste the cheap, bland food and imagine the neighbor’s wild dogs, which can be heard yapping in the distance.
The Baby Dance is not a sappy, sweet story about the love of a baby changing a person’s life. There are no neat little packages and no promise of a happy ending, even if everything does go as planned. Al taints the entire situation by continuing to use the baby as a bargaining chip and insinuating that he won’t sign away his parental rights until he gets everything he asks for. Richard isn’t sure he wants a baby from such a poor, uneducated family, and at times considers calling the whole thing off just to get these people out of his life.
Anderson’s The Baby Dance is a vivid slice of life, one that shows the complexity of the feelings involved in both adopting a baby and giving one up. The day Wanda goes into labor, harsh words are exchanged, tempers fly, and a happy occasion is marred by everyone’s personal feelings for each other. Somewhere in this mess is an innocent baby coming into a world full of hardship and conflict.
The richer couple spends most of the play being appalled at the poorer one, the poorer couple spends their time distrusting and acting cold towards the richer one, but by the production’s emotionally draining end everyone steps back to look at the situation honestly, and with new eyes. They seem to realize only after it is all over that the one person they are really each appalled with is themself.