The summer play festival at Essential Theatre has become an annual tradition. For two decades, the nonprofit has given voice to mostly Georgia playwrights via world and Southeastern premieres that run the gamut from drama to farce and, in this case, a play about the “minions of Satan.”
Babyshower for the Antichrist by Atlanta actor/playwright Ben Thorpe (in repertory through August 25 with Emily McClain’s Slaying Holofernes) doesn’t take itself too seriously, nor does it overstay its welcome. Still, it’s ultimately forgettable.
The play opens in a rustic lake house somewhere in the South, where three women — Reba, Dee and Shelley (Suzanne Roush, Gina Rickicki and Taylor Bahin) — dress in robes and get ready to make a sacrifice. Eventually they’re joined by Julie and Monica (Madison Welch and Sarina Montgomery). Monica is very pregnant. Most of the women are devil worshipers, and as the evening progresses, secrets are revealed.
Thorpe, a Snellville native, lived in Pittsburgh and New York before returning to metro Atlanta four years ago. He’s made a splash here since then, acting in the Alliance Theatre’s Hand to God, Falsettos at Actor’s Express and Serenbe Playhouse’s Titanic. He also wrote the book for a musical read at 2018’s Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival. Babyshower, however, feels unfinished.
It’s neither disturbing nor particularly funny. Nor even campy. It ends in a clumsy frenzy, wrapping up some matters a bit too quickly.
The backstories are a touch confusing. If Thorpe had cleaned those up and, perhaps, focused on how these women came together, the production might be more intriguing.
Director Shannon Eubanks gives the piece a theatrical feel with lots of thunder, blood here and there, a body part in a jar and a talking goat. But for a director usually so adept with actors, her hand seems less firm here.
Rickicki has a gift for physical comedy, but her work feels forced. Bahin, who has an affecting monologue about a drive-through incident, mostly overemotes. The marvelous Roush — memorably seen in Essential’s Ravens & Seagulls in 2014 — can’t do much with her character either. Montgomery and Welch are more grounded and believable.
Last summer, the Essential Theatre fest staged Avery Sharpe’s drama Woke. A terrific and subtle look at race relations, it was my favorite metro production in 2018, one that’s having its second production in January at Outvisible Theatre Company in suburban Detroit. It’s hard (and admittedly unfair) to compare anything to that, but this Babyshower — even at a zippy 75 minutes with no intermission — isn’t worth an RSVP.