Demon Baby

December 8th, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Question: What’s a piñata, a twittering bird in a cage, a garden gnome, a children’s book, and several bottles of gin got in common? Well, you’ll find the answer to that question in Erin Courtney’s play, Demon Baby.

Unraveling the meaning of these objects is the key to figuring out just what Courtney has to say about how we deal with displacement and the stuffiness of our lives.

Wren (Dawn Youngs) is an American woman dragged along by her husband Art (Tom Kondilas) to London for work. Left alone all day to do what she pleases, she attempts to work, instead, on a children’s book commissioned by Alan (Curt Arnold)—a book that is to comfort children who are displaced when their parents drag them along to new places to work. The book in question (as well as the work that Art and Alan do) is for a company that is overly concerned with the relocation of its employees—as Wren and Art frequently, in one scene at least, discuss a “relocation manual”—another loaded symbol for you—and Cat (Amy Bistok) discusses her “relocation advisor.” Throughout Demon Baby, this group (Wren, Art, Alan, and Cat) are joined by Charles (Arthur Grothe) and Sally (Teresa McDonough) for Gin-and-Tonic-infused parties with heavy smoking, eating, and vapid conversation.

The lifestyle of heavy drinking and isolation may be what leads to the sudden turn of events for Wren, when she suddenly wakens one night to find an immense garden gnome sitting on her chest. The garden gnome, whom Wren refers to as the Demon Baby (Wes Shofner), is a demon baby because “there’s something a little bit different about it.” At first, Wren is very put out by the Demon Baby and afraid, but soon she comes to hold conversations with it, and soon after the two are thick as thieves.

The rest of the play revolves around the increasingly erratic behavior of Wren as she is influenced (freed from constraint?) by the Demon Baby. This erratic behavior includes one provocative scene in which Wren attempts to seduce Alan, but not knowing how to do it she simply walks out stark naked (bravely carried forth by Ms. Young). As irony would have it, though, Alan is attracted not to Wren, but to her husband. Alan is alone with Wren, actually, to review the children’s book that Wren has finished. The book is very good, as far as Alan and the company are concerned—excepting the strange introduction of a demon baby—which the company cannot accept.

In the end, the book is decommissioned, no one seduces anyone, Cat’s husband (whom we never see) leaves her, Cat falls off a roof while trying to hit the piñata (she lives), the influence of the Demon Baby affects all the partiers, and, eventually, Cat recovers from her agoraphobia. The caveat being that it ends up on Art, who at the end of the play is being visited by the Demon Baby.

The power of this play lies in the interpretation of the images/icons I mention above and that Courtney weaves throughout the piece: the bird in the cage (wren), the piñata, the demon baby, covering furniture with sheets, the content of the children’s book, etc. Through them, I think, the subconscious/unconscious reaction to displacement and suffocation—the fears and threats—are made concrete and real. And these bizarre moments are drawn in sharp relief against the vapid, tiresome lifestyle of the characters in their “normal” life. I am not going to undertake an analysis or excavation of the play at this time, but I likely will in the future, as it struck me and I truly think that there is more to this play than meets the eye.

One thing that I noticed very early on, and throughout, for instance, is the reliance by all the characters (other than Wren) on what is written. That is, what is written has an authority of incontrovertible FACT. Whereas experience is dismissed. For instance, Wren’s experience of the Demon Baby is dismissed by Art as “sleep paralysis” or something else–but the experience itself, the effect of the experience, or its result are ignored. I think Courtney has something very serious to say about our willingness in modern times to rely too much on what is construed as “socially approved” explanation (or what is scientifically known), and the “sleep paralysis” that all of these characters seem to be undergoing in both their personal and business lives demonstrates the sedative effect of ignoring experience or of seeking new experience and simply taking life as it is lived day-to-day.

Demon Baby is directed by Geoffrey Hoffman and it is his first stab at directing. For the most part, I think he did very well. There are some moments that I question—but, of course, who doesn’t indulge in the glory that is back-seat driving? Some of the more prominent moments include large swaths of dead time (scene changes, etc.) and those in which Hoffman deviates from the script. As a playwright, of course, the latter is where my great fear and offense lies. For instance, the script calls for incessant smoking by many of the characters—chain smoking, in fact. There is no smoking in the production. Now, this may have been done for political correctness (god forbid), or perhaps expediency—who knows? But it does take an element from the production that would have, at least, added atmosphere, if not demonstrated the high-strung nature of these characters through their behavior. Another, though minor, point, is an objection to the periodic use of the sound track from American Beauty. I think that sound track is overly loaded for anyone who has seen the movie, and it disrupted my experience. I think convergence-continuum and Hoffman ably used multimedia in this piece, especially in the setting—construction work outside the window and the passage of time; as well as to show—to demonstrate—the inner workings of Wren’s mind at an especially frazzled point (where the Demon Baby is helping her write the children’s book). I think Hoffman was, in many ways, hampered by a script that, to my mind, calls for a great deal of subtlety in its handling and runs a great risk of being flat—which it was at some points. It was difficult, I think, as well because some of the actors lost their British accents, or periodically moved in and out of them, and some were unfortunately flat in their interactions as well: delivery, response, etc.

I’m glad I saw it, as I read it first and it is always better to see a play than to read it, and I will likely go see it again. This is the first of the clubbed thumb deliveries to be at con-con.

  1. October 17th, 2013 at 18:13 | #1

    Superb post however , I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this topic?
    I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little
    bit further. Many thanks!

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