By: Paulanne Simmons
May 24, 2018: Founded in 1934 by industrialist Alfred P. Sloan Jr., the eponymous Foundation, according to its website, is a “not-for-profit grantmaking institution that supports high quality, impartial scientific research; fosters a robust, diverse scientific workforce; strengthens public understanding and engagement with science; and promotes the health of the institutions of scientific endeavor.”
In recent years the foundation has partnered with Ensemble Studio Theatre to create and produce plays that challenge and broaden our understanding of how science and technology affect our lives. With such a heady and sophisticated mission, one would expect stodgy and intellectual drama. Happily, this is most often not the case, especially in their latest offering, Chiara Atik’s Bump, directed by Claudia Weill.
The play is part family drama. When Claudia (Ana Nogueira) becomes pregnant for the first time, her mother, Maria (Adriana Sananes), is ecstatic, but Luis (the likable Gilbert Cruz), her auto mechanic father, is inspired to create a new device for helping mothers deliver babies in protracted deliveries. Although both Claudia and Maria are skeptical, a truly hilarious scene in the gynecologist’s office shows he may be onto something.
The play is also part historical drama. In colonial New England, Mary (Lucy DeVito) delivers her first baby with the help of a knowledgable, non-nonsense midwife (Jenny O’Hara). DeVito’s hysteria colliding with O’Hara’s sangfroid is the source of many hearty laughs.
And the play is a meditation on pregnancy. Six expectant mothers on a pregnancy message board, Plum (Kristen Adele), Apple (Kelly Anne Burns), Grapefruit (Kelli Lynn Harrison), Walnut (Susan Hyon), Lemon (Erica Lutz) and Avocado (Laura Ramadei), exchange their hopes, fears and frustrations. Why do all the nurses call me Mom, one asks. Why can’t I think straight moans another. How much will labor hurt they question Grapefruit, the mother of three.
Although every pregnancy is different, even those of the same woman, most mothers will recognize themselves somewhere in the story. And the playwright’s gentle humor should make most women unashamed of even their most outlandish behavior.
Curiously, the only part of Bump that might give the audience pause, the invention Luis has created, is based on fact. In 2005, Jorge Odon, an Argentinian garage mechanic, created a baby extraction device after he was inspired by a YouTube video demonstrating how a cork could be removed from an empty wine bottle by inflating a plastic bag inside the bottle. Having passed various phases of testing, the device is slated for a randomized pivotal clinical trial before potential introduction in clinical practice.
It seems that truth is not only stranger than fiction; it also can be the basis of a very entertaining fictionalized account.
EST’s Curt Dempster Theatre
549 West 52 Street
Through June 3, 2018
Photography: Gerry Goodstein