Mother Courage

Performer Christen Clifford holds little back in BabyLove, her one-woman show at The Green Room at 45 Bleecker in which she chronicles the physical and emotional changes she underwent before, during, and following the birth of her first child. The show, which runs slightly over an hour but leaves you wanting much more, is to be praised for both its humor and its honesty. This highly enjoyable extended monologue (which began as a piece penned by Clifford for Nerve.com) chronicles the full journey of changes that its creator and star went through. Clifford begins the show in a fairly explicit manner by describing her attempts at conception, but her in-your-face presentation style is never off-putting. In fact, she achieves the opposite, creating a show that is always intimate and engaging, as she segues from talking about her younger days of sexual adventurousness to counting the myriad ways childbirth has changed her outlook on sex, love, maturity, and her relationship with her husband.

Talking to her audience as though they were her girlfriends, Clifford discusses the fears and expectations that come along with impending first-time motherhood. Will she always love her child unconditionally? Will her child love her in return? Would she actually prefer to have a son over a daughter?

The show, directed and partially developed by Julie Kramer, is candid and confessional. BabyLove offers a warts-and-all look at maternity and motherhood, and Kramer's assured hand ensures that though the play's tone gradually becomes more serious, it does so in measured, artful doses. Clifford discusses her changing body and supplies a detailed account of her entire childbirth experience. She also conveys the ways she grew disenchanted with her vagina and the way her sex life with her husband waned and then morphed into something new. (In one hilarious anecdote, Clifford describes how an attempt to multi-task intimacy and baby-rearing turned into an inadvertent threesome).

Sex does not totally dominate BabyLove, however. The show also features a fair amount of material on women’s health in general. For example, Clifford discusses the perils of simultaneous breast-feeding and masturbation, as well as the importance of Kegel exercises. Clifford continually revs the energy up by using water guns to over-exaggerate her breasts when nursing, pantomiming the act of breast-feeding, and even giving away prizes to a select few audience members.

What is most important about BabyLove is its refreshing confessionalism. We still live in a society where women who enjoy their sex lives, and even more brazenly, enjoy publicly discussing them, are considered somewhat taboo. Clifford bucks those conventions in a way that is entirely human and universal, never strictly sensational. She is who she is and makes no apologies for that, whether being tough or vulnerable, sassy or sentimental. I doubt there was single audience member – female or male – who did not find a kernel of truth in something she had to share. Chances are they found many.

Clifford is nothing short of a revelation. The actress’s ability to rebound between moments funny, tender and potentially embarrassing is astonishing, and the pace, timing, and tone with which she does it is nothing short of balletic. Clifford commands the stage from start to finish (though choreographer Julie Atlas Muz should be given credit as well for giving BabyLove some shape). This is a primary case of a performer being completely at ease – with her audience, wither her material, but most of all, with herself – and should not be missed.

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