BABY WITH THE BATHWATER, Raven Theatre. Toxic parenting is Christopher Durang’s target in this 80-minute one-act, a case history of cruelly dysfunctional child rearing.

The whining, selfish mother is a frustrated novelist, the father an unemployed alcoholic. Both want a divorce but endure each other in order to destroy their child. They’re sure it’s a girl–though it’s not–and name “her” Daisy, sing her bloodcurdling lullabies, entrust her to a sadistic nympho nanny, and fail to protect her from chemical, biological, and physical catastrophes. Not surprisingly, Daisy evolves from a catatonic/manic toddler into a therapy-craving adult who changes names and sex partners, spends 13 years in college, and finally and uncertainly sires his own offspring. But the final scene offers some hope that he learned from the mistakes of his idiot parents.

Their treatment of Daisy is really child abuse, a fact that sours and dates this comedy. Director Catherine Davis seems to sense this problem and underplays the script’s manic meanness and go-for-broke slapstick. Unfortunately, when cartoon characters begin to feel pain, they lose not only laughs but life. Sarah Ahmad and Sean Cooper are too deliberate to offer stylized caricatures of the perverse parents; instead they just seem dangerously stupid, while Liz Fletcher lacks the comic ability to lighten the nanny’s grotesqueries. The actors who profit from Davis’s approach are Heidi Mages, wrenching as the schoolteacher who sees the damage done to Daisy, and Dominic Conti, whose fractured Daisy poignantly tries to pick up his own pieces.

–Lawrence Bommer