Theater archives

Taking Care of Baby’s Vivid Ensemble Acting Makes Up for the Tendentiousness


Documentarians are sometimes
accused of manipulating the truth — making fictions out of facts. Dennis Kelly’s Taking Care of Baby, now playing
at MTC’s City Center space and incisively
directed by Erica Schmidt, approaches
this conundrum from the opposite direction,
propelling his fictional narrative with the mechanisms of documentary.

The piece purports to be a work of
verbatim theater investigating the disputed facts of a sensational murder case. (Periodically, we hear the recorded voice of the
“author” asking probing questions.) Donna McAuliffe (a nervy, enigmatic Kristen Bush) may have killed her two children. Or she may have been the victim of catastrophic misfortune compounded by false accusations, predatory media coverage, and medical malpractice.
We never really find out the “truth” (although you might have suspicions). Instead, in
sequences that blend dialogue and interview-style questioning, Kelly systematically flips our perceptions. That reassuringly humane psychiatrist? He’s a quack. Donna’s bluff, stalwart mother? She’s a ruthless pol. (Throughout, Laura Jellinek’s eloquent design reveals hidden depths behind bright surfaces.)

After a while, the almost uniformly seamy nature of the revelations becomes predictable — here, venality equals reality. But the vivid ensemble acting makes up for the tendentiousness. By the end, we’re no closer to the facts, but we’re reminded that every human being is an abyss.