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      Demon Baby
    Demon in the rough

    "Demon Baby" is an uninspired drama about a couple moving to London and meeting dull new friends, appealingly shaken up by the appearance of a sinister apparition in red.


    Wren, an ordinary American wife and aspiring children's author relocated to London with her husband, is commissioned to do a project that's meant for children but applies to her as well. It's an illustrated book to help expat kids adjust when their families arrive in England, with pages full of soothing messages about how to enjoy the culture and make new friends. Somehow, into this bland but reassuring little tract creeps something quite inappropriate, which the author calls the "Demon Baby."

    Company: Clubbed Thumb.
    Written by: Erin Courtney.
    Directed by: Ken Rus Schmoll.
    Cast: Heidi Schreck, Patrick McNulty, Nina Hellman, Gibson Frazier, Leo Kittay, Polly Lee, Mark Shanahan, Glenn Fleshler.
    Set design by: David Evans Morris.
    Costumes by: Kirche Leigh Zeile.
    Lighting by: Garin Marschall.

    Related links: Official site
    Lowes theatre
    34 street manhattan NY
    Jan. 9-31, 2004

    And you could say much the same for the play "Demon Baby." It's a mild-mannered story populated by somewhat insubstantial characters — but enlivened considerably by the sporadic appearances of the Demon Baby. One day, as Wren is grappling with both writer's block and a fear of leaving her sparse new apartment, she falls asleep on the floor only to wake up with a large, devilish-looking bearded guy sitting atop her. Later her husband says she was just suffering from "sleep paralysis," a simple inability to get up from bed. But she insists there was some kind of a sinister creature pinning her down.

    "It's not going to sound scary if I tell you what it looked like," she tells hubby Art.

    "I promise to leave open the option of being scared," Art tries to reassure her.

    "It looked like a garden gnome," she says.

    The Demon Baby adds a whiff of danger to the couple's gatherings with friends as he hovers around smoking and making snide remarks that only Wren can hear, and we wonder when Wren is going to snap under his influence. But he's also a pleasingly mercurial figure who sits atop his victims making teasing remarks that smack of dream logic, like, "What kind of ice cream do you like on your pizza?" and "What do you sing underwater?"

      Demon Baby
    "Demon Baby" is as clear a case as you'll see of a play being stolen by an actor — in this case, Glenn Fleshler as the big red guy. Next to the other characters with their polite manners and questionable accents, the Demon Baby is a welcome breath of putrid air and Fleshler plays him with an inner cackle that's the most engaging thing about the play.

    The rest of the cast seems uninspired, or maybe it's just that their characters don't have enough flesh on their bones. One has an implausible accent from some unspecified country that makes her sound like an Uzbek Marlene Dietrich. None seem to have any authentic emotions. Only the character of Wren eventually comes to some kind of life, after a dramatic turning point (you'll know it when you see it) that jolts her into action after her initial weeks of withdrawal.

    As Wren struggles with her children's book and her publisher warns her the Demon Baby character is out of place in what's supposed to be a bland little pamphlet, we want to tell her to take that character and write a different book, the twisted scare story that's lurking inside her. And we might as well ask playwright Erin Courtney for the same thing. There are traces of a dark, funny cry of the soul lurking inside "Demon Baby" but they're trapped in a mechanical drama about bland conversations among emotionless people at dull cocktail parties.

    JANUARY 29, 2004

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