Nine Months by Carl Ritchie and Stephen Woodjetts. Directed by the author and performer.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"Mama’s gonna be on the ticket..."
Elise Dewsberry as Margot; photo supplied
Dewsberry as Dawn; photo supplied
In 1984 David Shire, Richard Maltby, Jr., and Sybille Pearson erupted on Broadway with a show called ‘Baby.’ It followed the period of pregnancy of three very different women. One is a college student who is unmarried but involved with another student who has fewer links with fatherhood than she has with motherhood. Another character is an older woman whose marriage does not need a late child. The third one is an athlete who has never had luck with a pregnancy. With a narrative opening about the process of impregnating and a partial narrative about the stages of pregnancy it boasted a large and impressive cast of Broadway folks including Kim Criswell, Liz Callaway, Beth Fowler, Martin Vidnovic and James Congden in major roles.
Flash forward 24 years. In Copake at the Copake Theatre Company we have ‘Nine Months.’ This new show follows the fates of three very different women who are also pregnant. Their husbands, or mates, are just as involved or not involved as were their predecessors in the 1984 show. Here we have youngster Dawn Vaughn, pregnant by a boyfriend who doesn’t make himself a partof the picture. There is Margot, an older business woman with a very definitive, and strong, relationship with her husband Gerald. Finally, we meet young housewife and non-stop talker, Jennie Philips, who miscarried a baby and wants to keep this one a secret for as long as possible - like seven months. All three women, and the narrator, are played by a single actress, Elise Dewsberry, who manages all four personalities in physical, verbal and vocal ways.
Dewsberry is brilliant. Even when a song presents all three of the mamas-to-be at the same time, she manages to keep her voices on straight. Her Margot is a familiar, upper-class bitch who won’t be kept waiting, who doesn’t tolerate anyone else’s needs before her own - a total Lauren Bacall type. The delicious Jennie is endearing, sweet and high-pitched both in spoken and sung bits. Dawn is aggressive but youthful, arrogant yet uncertain. The narrator on a tape about the process of pregnancy is so plastic you have to applaud the parody of the educational tapes that have long been available. She takes her characters on physically, her face altering, her body language specific. She sings wonderfully and if the show seems short in the long-run, it is a lengthy tour-de-force for a single performer. There are twelve songs and more than enough dialogue in monologue form for two actresses, let alone one.
The premise of this show, that this represents the first of 25 videos documenting human life from conception to death veers backward in the musical theater lexicon to Oscar Hammerstein,II’s libretto for a 1950's show called ‘Allegro’ which was supposed to follow its hero from birth to death, but only managed to get through divorce and a possible second marriage. According to the program notes there is already a ‘Nine Months-2 (Life After Birth)' so librettist Ritchie and composer Woodjetts may be on their way to that dream of 25 musicals. Only time will tell.
Their songs for this show cover a wide spectrum of musical stylings.The emphasis is on comedy in songs like "Breasts," and "Ill," and "Cravings," but the softer, more sentimental and emotional sides of the pregnancy experience are explored in "Mama’s got a list" and "My Little Man" among others. When you realize that each character has her moments and that sometimes they all appear in a single ditty, or through-composed scene, you almost wish for the earlier show to be back on the boards with all three women singing about how they ‘want it all.’ Instead we have to be very attentive to Dewsberry as she switches from character to character to character. The rhymes are often predictable in Ritchie’s songs, but the humor is delicious and the wit is endearing. The sentiments are cloying, but necessary to the experience on stage. Melodically all of the songs are expert and fine. It’s a good evening of musical theater.
At the keyboard is California musician Ross Källing, who plays the score with elegance and ease.
This show has a brief run in Copake, at a theatre run by the show’s author. This is one of his best and it would be a shame if people miss the opportunity to experience his work in the hands of such an accomplished duo as Dewsberry and her accompanist.
When nine months only takes about ninety minutes it’s a very worthwhile trip down the tubes of life.
Nine Months plays at the Copake Theatre through Sunday, March 2. For ticket information call 518-325-1234 or find them on line at www.copaketheatrecompany.com