Medical Devices Meet Theatrical Devices in Bump
Ensemble Studio Theatre debuts Chiara Atik's new play about motherhood with a technological spin.
Necessity is the mother of invention — and mothers have a lot of necessities. That essentially sums up the gist of Bump, a new play by Chiara Atik now running at Ensemble Studio Theatre as part of its Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science & Technology Project. The project funds plays that delve into science and technology "in order to challenge existing stereotypes of scientists and engineers in popular culture." Bump, which is based on the true story of Jorge Odon and the baby extracting device he MacGyvered in his garage, deals well enough with the science side of things, making an accessible and entertaining story out of a medical innovation (with the help of director Claudia Weill's comic sensibilities). However, without an emotional arc to supplement, all you have is an amusing anecdote — not a fully developed play.
In the world of Bump, Jorge Odon becomes Luis Vasquez (Gilbert Cruz as the picture of a well-meaning but oblivious dad). He's a 60-something mechanic whose daughter Claudia (Ana Nogueira, playing up her millennial neuroses while holding on to her sharp intelligence) is expecting her first child. With babies and all the gruesomeness that comes with birth on the brain, Jorge watches a YouTube video that inspires a Eureka moment. Over and over, he watches a man remove a cork from an empty bottle with an inflated plastic bag (Jonathan Randell Silver makes for an entertaining YouTube Guy, performing the same trick at different laptop volumes) and believes that this trick won't just help poor wine bottle openers — it could help millions of mothers.
Claudia's pregnancy suddenly becomes all about the "Vasquez Device" (paralleling the real-life Odon Device which was actually inspired by a YouTube video), and Jorge suggests his daughter be the product's first test dummy, despite her wishes for an all-natural water birth, assisted by a doula in the comfort of her own home. Claudia and her mother Maria (Adriana Sananes, who only has the chance to act generically maternal in her minimal stage time) eventually accept that this garage-made contraption isn't an elaborate joke (their initial reactions of fear and confusion to the prototype are hilariously realistic), but Claudia isn't about to change her finely crafted birth plan to accommodate her father's science experiment.
That's about the only time characters "bump" heads in Bump, leaving us with a sometimes funny but ultimately toothless story. Atik beefs up the play with two adjacent story lines: One features a group of expectant mothers (six women periodically popping up in the cut-out window that becomes the centerpiece of Kristen Robinson's set) who share their "WTF Wednesday" and "Unpopular Opinion Thursday" comments on a supportive message board (a distaste for the word "bump" and "baby on board" stickers make the list).
The other plot takes us back to a cabin in 1790 Maine (featuring campy colonial costumes by Suzanne Chesney) where Mary (Lucy DeVito) is being guided through a primitive and painful birthing process with her midwife (Jenny O'Hara). DeVito and O'Hara make for an entertaining odd couple — O'Hara meeting DeVito's sympathetic whines with a drill sergeant's orders. Unfortunately, we see them least of all, and their story (like the other two), amounts to little more than "childbearing is scary, but you can do it." The implied final clause of that message is "…especially if you have the Vasquez Device!" And when a whiff of infomercial seeps into your play, it's time to make a new birth plan.