With all the current media buzz about stem cell research and “selective reduction” of reproductive eggs, a play about a middle-aged woman’s struggles with in vitro fertilization would seem to be timely stuff. Karla Jennings’ turgid semiautobiographical sojourn through the lows and very lows of a college professor’s attempts to overcome infertility is overflowing with fertility jargon but fails to resonate at all as drama. Director Justine Lambert endeavors to lighten the mood with surrealistic fantasy sequences and recurring appearances by a gold-draped song-and-dance Pregnant Chorus that are as bizarre as they are ineffective.
There is no variation on the theme of angst suffered by almost-40 professor Megan Bloom (Eve Plumb of “The Brady Bunch”) as she and hubby David (Bruce Nozick) plow through a series of unsuccessful attempts to impregnate her before her biological clock completely winds down. Abetting the couple’s efforts are sympathetic Dr. Phillips (Steve Heller) and no-nonsense Nurse Day (Charlene Tilton of “Dallas”), who constantly spew in vitro data at Megan. At times, it sounds like the playwright is afraid she won’t get all the information in before the production ends. The only other texture to the proceedings is provided by Megan’s philosophical, poetry-spouting neighbor Claire (Patricia Harty, star of CBS’ “Blondie”) who tries to counsel her friend that being childless is not an overwhelming tragedy.
Plumb is believable as the mommy wannabe, but there is very little variation to her serious-to-the-max outing as Megan. Attempts at achieving some levity within the production fail in part because she simply doesn’t react to any of it. Nozick is quite likable as the supportive spouse but even he cannot penetrate Plumb’s dour facade.
Harty’s empathetic portrayal of Claire, the production’s voice of alternative thinking, offers a welcome respite from Megan’s unrelenting quest for motherhood. Harty conveys the sad but gentle resignation of a woman who had failed at in vitro and now accepts the fact there will be no children in her life.
Tilton effectively communicates the humorless efficiency of Nurse Day and is memorable as a talkative working class mom who has no trouble at all having children. She is also active in a number of fantasy portrayals, playing the over-the-top Goddess Metrodin and Megan’s imagined daughter.
Ty Stoller performs multiple fantasy roles, including an arrogant walking sperm factory named Jacket and a fiery Preacher who condemns Megan for considering a selective reduction of her fertilized eggs. Stoller also joins Tilton, Heller, Nozick and Harty as members of the aforementioned Pregnant Chorus.
In its current state, “Dish Babies” has absolutely no legs to make it to Off Broadway, a goal proclaimed in the program. A play needs more than an endless stream of meaningful facts.