by: Susan Hasho
Pretty Babies (written and directed by Antony Raymond) is just clever enough to be disturbing. Underneath the drug, sex and no-rock-and-roll talk there is an underpinning of truth in this play. Call the game codependent or sado-masochistic or cultural, it is accurately given air time in this 90-minute romp through six young lives.
The play opens with a scene between Jason (Christopher Heard) and Claire (Stacey Roca). They bicker back and forth about Jason cheating. It is revealed Jason has a sister he’s never met because his mother got knocked up a long time ago. Jason suggests that Claire have sex with the drug dealer Billy (Dan McVey) when he comes, for extra cocaine. Billy arrives with much conversation peppered with a constant “yo” man and a “yo” this. He is a bit of a cliché, but Dan McVey fills him with so much personality that he’s funny and charming in spite of it. They all go for the cocaine together. And then Jason backs Claire into a corner about having sex with Billy; and to spite him she does. So there you have the general lay of the landscape.
Second scene is with Randi (Sara Antkowiak) and Martin (Benjamin Bauman). This particular pas de deux is a pick-up, where do we go for sex scene. Randi likes to bite, calls herself “Batman” and Martin is battered into going to a hotel with her instead of to his apartment where he lives with his sister Sam (Mary Beth Albers). Next morning Martin comes home and confides to his sister who seems to be a major emotional support for him.
In the next escalation of the action, Billy and Jason talk about sex with Claire. Claire and Jason talk about period sex together. And as inevitable as it portends, the biting” Batman” Randi arrives on Jason’s doorstep because, of course, she is his long lost half-sister who has convinced Martin to drive her to New York to meet her brother. Randi and Jason get to know each other obliquely, and Claire comes home. They all go for the cocaine together.
Randi goes back to the hotel to pick up Martin, and goads him into a playful violent exchange.
Next scene finds Jason and Randi missing, and Martin meeting Claire at Jason’s apartment. Claire entertains him in what is the sweetest scene in the play. Jason and Randi return. Billy shows up to announce he’s moving away. Cocaine is dumped unceremoniously onto the floor. He’s not going to deal drugs anymore. Billy makes a move on Randi, Jason is enraged. Jason attacks Billy. And Randi says, “You must really love me.” In this play, it only feels like love if it comes with danger and rejection. And this is the kind of addict love that Pretty Babies so clearly dramatizes. Push/pull, I want you but I want to hurt you, and prove you care for me by hurting me—kinda love. Beautifully pictured and often funny, these kind of crack-pot relationships are familiar enough to be unsettling, and close enough to reality to be too close.
The actors are all first-rate. Christopher Heard as a sly, smirky guy puts out just enough charm to get away with it. Stacey Roca as Claire is keenly capable of providing the dimension necessary to steer clear of the obvious and constantly surprise. Dan McVey as Billy is a manic charmer. Sara Antkowiak as Randi is graceful, dangerous and often sexy and scary all at once. Benjamin Bauman as Martin and Mary Beth Albers as Sam, his sister, have the challenging task of being the more normal of the crew. However, they are very adept at bringing a bit of a twist to the normal—both fine actors. The direction by the playwright Antony Raymond is very clever. He seemed to have had enough distance from his own work to get it right–no mean feat.
Pretty Babies plays February 28—March 21, 2015 Thursdays @8pm, Friday and Saturdays @9:30pm.
13th Street Repertory Theater 50 West 13th Street NYC
Tickets are $18.00 and are available at www.elsinorecounty.com
*Photo: Benjamin Bauman