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The Babysitter

Some nasty fantasies are afoot in Robert Coover's dark comedy. logo
If you've been a babysitter, you've probably done all sorts of things while watching the kids that could be considered distracting or even irresponsible. Or maybe you've dreamed of things you'd like to do, or had nightmares about what you might do.

If you've hired a babysitter, you've imagined all kinds of terrible things happening to your little ones while under the care of a 15 or 16-year-old girl--and what might occur when your husband drives her home.

If you're the boyfriend of a babysitter, you may have had some villainous fantasies about shedding your virginity in a stranger's home.

The heavily awarded Robert Coover (Obie-winner, Faulkner Award-winner, and more) takes all of these scenarios, fragments them until you have no idea if there is truth to any of them, and weaves them all into an outstanding story. The Babysitter, as produced by the Parallax Theatre Company, had its initial run at the McCadden Theatre and has since reopened at the Coast Playhouse in West Hollywood. Hopefully, audiences will get themselves to WeHo to see this intelligently directed, outstandingly performed, fascinatingly written work.

Director Victor D'Altorio has taken the complete text of Coover's short story and adapted it for the stage with Henrietta Pearsall. As the audience waits for the play to begin, sound effects of urinating and flushing toilets fill the theater and heads pop up behind a prop wall on stage, one at a time over the course of 10 minutes. Soon, six faces in blue light are staring at you, like the ghosts in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. You get little chills up your spine as you imagine what must be coming in this dark comedy.

A narrator (Henrietta Pearsall) sets up the story: A nameless, teenage Babysitter (Rhonda Patterson) has arrived to watch the Tucker children, whose parents are overweight, middle aged and seemingly miserable. Immediately, the fantasies begin. In various combinations, other cast members serve as a short of chorus as they enact the TV programs watched by The Babysitter--murder mysteries and twisted love stories that add to the tension.

The action rapidly switches from one spotlit vignette to another, as we see different sides of the same stories. Mr. Tucker (John Eric Montana) is already eyeing The Babysitter for his own conquest as he brushes his teeth, sucks in his ample belly, and dresses for a party. Mrs. Tucker (Winifred Freedman) is lamenting her life of child rearing and the fact that too many pounds are showing in rolls around her middle. As she and her husband get in the car, she asks, "What do you think of the babysitter?"

The Tucker kids are played by adults; there's a boy named Jimmy (Darin Toonder), a younger, roly-poly little girl named Bitsy, (T.L. Brooke), and an unseen baby. While Jimmy apparently has sexual fantasies about The Babysitter, Bitsy is simply a screaming toddler (nobody does this better than Brooke.) The Babysitter's boyfriend, Jack (Keith Bogart), is an affable kid who loves her but may get carried away--along with his insensitive, pinball-playing friend Mark (James C. Leary--in his eagerness to become a "man."

Coover latches onto the characters' fantasies: e.g., soaping The Babysitter's back, having sex with her under the blankets, spying on her through the bathroom window. At one point, Mr. Tucker imagines walking in on a ménage à trois and taking his turn. Various ways to die or be killed are also fantasized. The author weaves some bizarre humor into the play, as in the scene of Mrs. Tucker's monumental struggle with her girdle at the party: Coover has the entire male contingent try to squeeze the lady into something her body doesn't fit, thereby feeding Mrs. T's insecurities and distracting her from the whereabouts of her husband. Having stayed too long at the party, she thinks she hears something about a babysitter on the news...

All of the performances here are outstanding. The simple production, also designed by D'Altorio, belies the complexity of the staging this story. Jason Huddleston's lighting and sound add enough eeriness to make the play's psychological games really thrilling.

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