Willows' 'Be My Baby' a high-flying comedy
By Pat Craig
Contra Costa Times
"Be My Baby" is an odd sort of comedy — a bit dyspeptic in its outlook and featuring principal characters who appear to be pushing, or perhaps have already pushed, Social Security age.
To put it another way, they are a pair of characters who look quite a bit like the bulk of the audience and have a more realistic worldview than the dotty grandparent types that were so much a part of theatrical comedies of a decade or two ago.
It could be that playwright Ken Ludwig, who also did "Moon Over Buffalo" and "Lend Me a Tenor," is to contemporary domestic stage comedy what Arthur Miller was to the dramatic theater of his time. OK, he'll never get the accolades Miller did, but with "Be My Baby," Ludwig may have
unlocked the mystery of filling theater seats.
In this new show, now having its West Coast debut at Concord's Willows Theatre, Ludwig tells the tale of grouchy John Campbell (Chris Ayles) and grumpy Maud Kinch (Patricia Silver), who are thrust together on a trans-Atlantic journey to retrieve the baby girl adopted by the newly married Gloria (Melissa Quine) and Christy (Brady Woolery) — her niece and his ward.
John and Maud spend their conscious hours bickering — a Rob Roy ordered in a timely manner renders her unconscious for most of the journey, but by the time the duo hits San Francisco, the hotel halls are alive with the sound of venom.
They do not like each other, but there is some sort of magic there, even
if it is the sheer joy of both being sort of related to a baby over whom they do not hold total responsibility.
Not surprisingly, it turns into a bit of a love story as the older couple team up to care for the tot in transit and come to depend more and more on each other after they become stranded in a pre-Summer-of-Love San Francisco, another small piece of genius on Ludwig's part, because the early-'60s era is when many of the audience members were in their high school years; and the pleasantly tuneful music of the era, from Elvis to early British invasion, peppers the between-the-scenes soundtrack.
As their stay in San Francisco continues, due to one unplanned circumstance after another, the relationship builds into a prickly romance and continues on that track for most of the rest of the show, as the situations keep compounding themselves and thwarting their speedy return to the United Kingdom and a little peace and quiet.
In some ways, "Be My Baby" plays like a TV sitcom with some adult language and situations. But much of it is quite funny, due in no small part to the cast — the older and younger couple and then another pair, Tiffany Hoover and Nikolai Lokteff, who play an assortment of tiny comic roles, many dependent on wearing wigs of one kind or another to add a lot of laughs to the show.
It's directed by Richard Elliott, who brings his rapid-fire comedy style and puts it to good use on a utilitarian set by Peter Crompton. The set is sparse in detail, something absolutely necessary for the show's 29 scenes, all of which change on the fly.
"Be My Baby" isn't a show that will survive for decades in anthologies, but it is funny, filled with laughs and a whole lot of fun.