Review: ‘Birth and After Birth’ brings theatre of the absurd to the Players Club Second Stage

Donna Romero and Jim Fryer as mother and son in “Birth and After Birth” at the Players Club of Swarthmore. Photo by David Richman.

By Margie Royal

It’s not too often that you get to experience a play written in the style of “theater of the absurd,” but that’s certainly the term I’d use to describe Tina Howe’s “Birth and After Birth” which is now on the Second Stage at the Players Club of Swarthmore through April 15. Well cast and directed by George Mulford, the plot, such as it is, deals with a birthday celebration of four-year-old Nicky Apple (Jim Fryer), the only son of parents Sandy (Donna Kelly Romero) and Bill Apple (Anthony SanFilippo).

The first act is the preparation for the party; in the second act, a childless couple, Mia (Aimee Theresa) and Jeffrey Freed (David E. Griffith) arrive for the party. This couple is, as their last name symbolizes, free from the responsibilities of parenting and are travelers. Howe uses her characters to provide many perspectives on giving birth and raising children, but none of it is traditionally structured, or builds to a conclusion or gives closure to a story with a clear insight gained. The characters rift on how parenthood affects or doesn’t affect them. The play is like a mosiac of dramatic moments grouped around the theme of parenthood.

All of this randomly spewing out  trivial thoughts presents many challenges for an actor. The characters rarely listen and respond to one another; I don’t know how the actors ever memorized their lines – there’s no real logic to the order in which the dialogue occurs. That being said, Donna Kelly Romero and Anthony SanFilippo do a fine job creating the self-absorbed parents who are at times, proud, exasperated and frustrated by the task of raising a son. As their guests, Aimee Theresa and David Griffith do a nice job portraying equally self-absorbed characters obsessed with traveling. As Mia, Aimee Theresa tells a story of a gruesome birth and rebirth ritual she witnessed in a jungle. Her delivery of the tribal ritual she witnessed was well done; it made me squeamish. For this play to succeed, monologues like these must be fully realized for the audience to have any interest in trying to follow the play. The PCS ensemble does a great job with this.

As bratty Nicky, Jim Fryer is terrific — and funny. And, if you go, you get to see him wear a  baby’s sleepsuit and a little boy’s sailor suit, thanks to some great work from costumer Randino Del Rosario.

John Mayer’s props and Alan Stamford’s lighting add to the production.

This Tina Howe play is rarely staged; PCS is probably staging the Delaware County premiere. You have only a few more opportunities to see it: April 9 at 2 p.m., April 13 at 7:30 p.m. and April 14-15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at door. The Second Stage is not handicap accessible.

For more information, visit www.pcstheater.org.