The Sydney Fringe is here – a time of wild experimentation – of DIY enthusiasm – of bizarre artistic occurrences and disoriented punters muttering “what did I just see?” It’s an opportunity for the grass roots, emerging and established alternative arts, independent arts and hybrid arts to throw themselves into venues, coax audiences to relinquish their cash and take a chance.

Not all of the Fringe is a series of meaningful self-devised monologues by recent acting graduates, some shows are a little more established than that. One such show is Baby with the Bathwater by American playwright Christopher Durang, directed by Andrew Johnston.

So declarations up front – I have previously enjoyed AJ’s directorial work of Jasper Marlow’s first full-length play Zetland which debuted at Sidetrack Theatre as a part of the Fringe 2010 – he has also been a part of BSN and I’ve been a fan since I met him- he’s a nice guy. Also I have directed Michael Howlett and known and adored him for several years, and Amy Kersey was a part of BSN and Stories from the 428. I am also somewhat familiar with Durang’s writing having directed a piece for Hotseat Theatre in 2008. I am also very sympathetic to the limitations of The Sydney Fringe – a 4 hour tech time, limited resources etc – and really any Fringe production really is the success (or failure) of the artists you see – they are the one producing and mounting the project often with no financial support and very little resources.

Written in 1983, Durang’s Baby with the Bathwater is essentially a play about how children are inextricably damaged by their parents – who are inadequate but well meaning. The blurb reads like this:

“Some people are ready for parenthood.
Some stay behind the refrigerator.

John and Helen have just brought baby into their home. John is unemployed. Helen wants a divorce. Baby won’t stop crying. Nanny arrives and commits adultery. Cynthia brings her hungry Alsatian. But what does it all mean for baby? Will it spend its whole life thinking it’s a baked potato? Will it ever finish its essay on Gulliver’s Travels?
Baby with the Bathwater is fast-paced, witty, noisy and colourful. An absurd and brutal comedy satirizing the anxieties that come with the responsibilities of parenthood.”

The story itself is neatly bound between two bookends of new baby arrival, and is a tidy 90 minute no-interval farce tracking the life of Daisy (Brendan Maclean). And the magic is watching the effervescent acting of Julia Kennedy-Scott as she guides/terrorises Daisy and his well-meaning deeply flawed parents (Michael Howlett & Amy Kersey). We are taken on a journey where too much is said- too much subtext revealed – where emotions swing and errupt like caustic boils and then are soothed with a smile or a memory. The power of Durang’s writing works best in unsignposted, spontaneous eruptions that surprise even the speaker – and then are ignored. The comedy comes from the rapid fire confessionals and brutal actions. It is the cartoonishness of Howlett and Kennedy-Scott which upholds this style of writing most convincingly – and we bounce and collide with our own unease at being voyeurs of this psychological inconsistency. Kersey is at her best in the park scene as we see the spontaneous ferocity overwhelm Helen.

This comedy works best rapid fire – it’s farce after all. Disturbing black comedic farce. It’s about pace.

The production itself is staged in a rudimentary way – this is not high art and not meant to be. It’s basic and clear and entertaining because the material is interesting (despite it’s age). Johnston has done a mammoth job reigning in the show within the limitations of the festival setting – and I am sure the lengthy transitions will iron out beautifully through out the run. Additionally there are some genuinely bold and bright moments from the cast who require huge stamina to maintain the pace of the work.

If you are looking for an entertaining night out, Baby with the Bathwater is probably your safest bet at the Fringe. And if you don’t know Durangs writing, check it out. It’s wildly erratic and imaginative, deeply confrontational and difficult comedy.