Prolific Robert Coover has been honored with an Obie Award for "The Kid" (1973), the Faulkner Award for his novel "The Origins of the Brunists" (1966), and the Rea Short Story Award for the collection that included the darkly comedic, surrealistic little gem "The Babysitter." Coover infuses a plethora of repressed desires into a seemingly mundane evening of suburban babysitting as the hidden thoughts and unrequited passions of each character are played out in a series of overlapping, often repetitious vignettes that obliterate the line between reality and fantasy.

Prolific Robert Coover has been honored with an Obie Award for “The Kid” (1973), the Faulkner Award for his novel “The Origins of the Brunists” (1966), and the Rea Short Story Award for the collection that included the darkly comedic, surrealistic little gem “The Babysitter.” Coover infuses a plethora of repressed desires into a seemingly mundane evening of suburban babysitting as the hidden thoughts and unrequited passions of each character are played out in a series of overlapping, often repetitious vignettes that obliterate the line between reality and fantasy.

Staging a word-for-word presentation of Cover’s story, director Victor D’Altorio (a co-adaptor) makes brilliant use of a Narrator (Henrietta Pearsall) and the Story Theatre technique of character self-narration to fuse the story’s descriptive passages with the actual dialogue.

Aided immensely by Rand Ryan’s evocative, mood-enhancing light design, an eight-member ensemble smoothly navigates the constantly shifting realities as comely teenage Babysitter (Rhonda Patterson) attempts to move her young charges, Jimmy (Darin Toonder) and Bitsy (T.L. Brooke), through bath and to bed so she can enjoy her own bubble bath and then a relaxing evening in front of the TV.

Complicating matters are her boyfriend Jack (Keith Bogart) and his lowlife pal Mark (James C. Leary), who would like nothing better than to come over for some exploratory hanky-panky. Meanwhile, the sitter’s employers, Mr. Tucker (John Eric Montana) and Mrs. Tucker (Winifred Freedman), are allowing themselves a bit of alcoholic indulgence at a neighbor’s party.

Beneath the surface of everyone’s civility there are darker forces at work. The sitter’s own sensual curiosity, as well as her minor frustrations with the children’s mischievous behavior, become magnified to imaginedtragic proportions. Jack’s fantasies range from an oh-so-willing girlfriend-led menage a trois to very unwilling gang rape.

Mr. Tucker’s body might be swilling booze at the neighbor’s party but his lustful soul is back at the house ravaging the teenage girl through myriad scenarios.

The performances are outstanding. Patterson effectively evolves to the needs of each vignette, whether she is innocently romping with the kids or lasciviously servicing the sexual desires of Jack, Mark and Mr. Tucker. Montana offers an often hilarious presence as the paunch, middle-aged would-be Lothario who constantly has to justify his erratic, fantasy-driven behavior at the party. An imagined caress of the Babysitter’s behind segues into a golf swing when his wife and host approach.

Toonder and Brooke are captivatingly macabre as the relentless toddlers who insinuate themselves into everyone’s realities. Co-adaptor Pearsall is correctly benign as the Narrator, facilitating the scenic flow without ever intruding on the action.

The Babysitter

McCadden Theater; 55 seats; $20 top

Production

A Parallax Theater presentation of a play in one act based on a short story by Robert Coover, adapted for the stage by Victor D'Altorio and Henrietta Pearsall. Directed and designed by D'Altorio.

Creative

Lighting design, Rand Ryan. Opened Jan. 14, 2000. Reviewed Jan. 20; runs until Feb. 12. Running time: 85 MIN.

Cast

The Narrator - Henrietta Pearsall The Babysitter - Rhonda Patterson Jack - Keith Bogart Mark - James C. Leary Mr. Tucker - John Eric Montana Mrs. Tucker - Winifred Freedman Jimmy Tucker - Darin Toonder Bitsy Tucker - T.L. Brooke
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