Footsteps Theatre Company

And Baby Makes Seven, by New York playwright Paula Vogel, could be called warm, witty, bold, daring, even zany. They’re the kind of words that make great banners for newspaper advertisements. They’re also quite deceptive. For while And Baby Makes Seven has all these qualities, it’s missing a more important one: a larger purpose. Its message is muddled. And when that message–“don’t be afraid to play”–finally comes through, it seems incredibly wimpy.

Anna and Ruth are lovers. They share a New York loft with their gay friend Peter. Some time ago Anna decided she wanted to have a baby. Since that’s one thing Ruth can’t give her, Anna asks Peter to do the job. Peter obliges, and when the play opens Anna is nine months pregnant.

The play fits nicely into Footsteps Theatre’s mission to expand our vision about the possibilities of womanhood. As a sort of homosexual Three’s Company, it’s liberating enough in its outlook. But Vogel doesn’t leave the premise at that. Anna and Ruth also have a rich fantasy life. Ruth frequently becomes Henri, a character inspired by the little French boy in the film The Red Balloon. Anna becomes Cecil, a precocious young geophysicist-to-be. The two boys have a wily dog named Orphan that they found abandoned in the Port Authority bus terminal; it’s played by Ruth.

Peter becomes alarmed that the two women spend so much time pretending they’re someone else. It’s not healthy to raise a baby in a household where the mothers suddenly start acting like little boys, he tells them. Looking soberly at the situation, Anna and Ruth concede that he’s probably right and decide to kill Henri, Cecil, and Orphan. But after the baby’s born, Anna, Ruth, and even Peter miss the fantasy kids so much that they bring them back to life.

The subject of this play is two lesbian lovers and a gay man trying to build a loving family, but the underlying social issues are never addressed. Instead the ultimate message is about the need to have healthy, playful imaginations. As Cecil tells Peter just before his imaginary death, “Don’t be afraid to play with your child.” All these shenanigans just to get that simple message across? Seems a waste of energy.

What’s more frustrating is that in this production director Dale Heinen hasn’t bothered to think much about any message. He pays attention to the details: Peter has a great shtick where he wipes the kitchen table, and Ruth has an impressive scene where she imagines she’s both Henri and the dog fighting over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But we don’t know who these people are: their likes and dislikes, income, education, family background, social status, whatever. They live in a vacuum where their actions have no consequences. Even when Peter takes Cecil and Henri to the zoo, they behave like little boys in the privacy of their playroom.

Much of the fault lies in the script, since Vogel seems to assume we know why Anna and Ruth need such strong fantasies. But that flaw could have been masked by astute directing and an evocative set. Instead it seems like the show opened before the walls of Joe Jensen’s set were built. Consisting of only a wooden frame that arcs across the back of the stage, some toys, a smattering of nondescript furniture, and a scrim-covered box that lets us see Cecil and Henri’s shadows at night, this set gives us no clue who these people are.

Elizabeth Acerra, Jean Adamak, and David Pease create warm, witty, bold, daring, even zany characters, but they never get beyond that. Their presence onstage is enjoyable, but ultimately unsatisfying.