In North Hollywood “The Baby Project” is also the new theater project.
“The Baby Project” is the play that opens the Road Theatre’s second venue, a brand new luxury housing complex for artists and art aficionados 62 years and older. Called the NoHo Senior Arts Colony, it is believed to be the first housing complex in the nation to open with a professional 73-seat theater on-site, plus studios for painting, sculpture, photography, and other visual arts; a quiet library for writers; film editing facilities; classrooms and lecture halls for teachers, writers, and visiting artists and free art and yoga classes for residents.
Most exciting for Taylor Gilbert, the founding artistic director of the Road Theatre is the fact that this beautiful new “second space” (the first is housed in the Lankershim Arts Center, 5108 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood) offers the company “the opportunity to expand our season and present alternate productions.” In addition, she says, “our hits can run longer because we won’t have to shut them down to set up our next production.”
Gilbert is also enthusiastic about presenting the company’s first musical, ”The Baby Project,” which opened this week.
“The play is partially funded by a [National Endowment for the Arts] grant and the book and lyrics are written by Lori Jaroslow in collaboration with Fonda Feingold and Noriko Olling on the music. It’s a different direction for us, because our typical fare is not ‘fun.’ It’s usually heavy or dark. This story is about a middle-aged woman in search of family.”
Originally conceived as a solo, autobiographical performance, the play has been expanded to a musical with a cast of five playing some 38 parts in the life of a bisexual 40-something New Yorker who wants to have a baby.
“But my girlfriend at the time (played by a soft-spoken Kasi Jones) didn’t want to have a baby,” says the lead, Dana, (a dynamic Lani Shipman), “so I put it off — temporarily.”
Further, it isn’t so easy to conceive at that age and after Dana had gone through numerous fertility processes unsuccessfully she is advised by her doctor to “go to L.A., where the sperm is better …”
In L.A. she is especially amazed by the traffic bulletins on the radio.
“They give you directions to all the accidents,” she says. “And what’s a sig-alert? I think I may have just had one.”
Meanwhile, her mother (Susan Boyd Joyce), a professional bass player whose phone rings to the tune of Hava Nagila, is “busy suffering.” She is horrified that Dana is considering using the sperm of a German man.
“It’s payback,” Dana responds. “I’m going to use it to build a better Jew.”
While she’s waiting to become a mother, Dana takes a job as a substitute teacher in South Central L.A. Her job is to “teach everything,” which is OK with her, “as long as it isn’t math or science.” So, of course, she is assigned to teach algebra.
The kids are unruly, disrespectful and undisciplined. Especially a pregnant 14-year-old named Nora (Jillian Easton) who eventually comes to play a significant role in Dana’s life.
This is a musical that is funny and well acted, and all five players have exceptionally strong and beautiful voices.
The songs they sing are fun and advance the plot successfully. A highlight is an ensemble number, “You Don’t Know,” and another called “Love Schmove” in which Dana sings her conviction that love is overrated.
As for the new Road Theater, it is everything a producer — or an actor — could wish for: ample space backstage, comfortable seats, and an unencumbered sightline for everyone in the house.
“The Baby Project” will continue at the Road Theatre at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 17. Call (866) 506-1248 or visit www.RoadTheatre.org for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.