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When The Bough Breaks
Theatre Review by Elias Stimac, Drama-Logue, Feb. 25-March 3, 1993

Sometimes life offers us choices that no one should have to make.

With the ever-evolving advances of modern technology come new responsibilities that humanity may not be prepared to face, especially when it comes to life and death medical issues. Robert Clyman’s When the Bough Breaks, is now in its West Coast premiere at the Colony Studio Theatre, takes an intriguing look at what one couple must confront when told that the child they are anxiously expecting may turn out to be less than healthy.

Doug (Robert O’Reilly) brings in his pregnant wife Susan (Melody Ryane), into the hospital for a routine examination after she experiences what she thinks is a backache. Their physician of choice, Beth (Bonita Friedericy), tells them news to the contrary  — the baby is about to be born prematurely, in its 25th week, which could lead to complications. The upscale parents begin to have doubts about bringing a child into the world against such odds. Supportive staff members at the hospital, which specializes in advanced pediatric care, try to convince them otherwise, but the thought of an imperfect baby is almost too much to bear.

Should the couple abort their potentially disabled child? When the Bough Breaks is certainly a fitting companion piece to Jonathan Tolin’s The Twilight of the Golds, which is now playing at the Pasadena Playhouse. Clyman’s drama poses similar question, while allowing its characters to pursue more medical rather philosophical answers. This piece takes the moral dilemma out of the home and into the hospital, losing some of the personal immediacy of Twilight while imposing much of the responsibility onto the medical community.

As written by Clyman and staged by Michael Haney, this Bough bends at times in its re-creation of the couple’s physical and moral crisis, but never breaks. The medical sequences are adept, and while some of the humor seems out of place in the sober environment, the levity is necessary to offset such heavy subject matter. However, it does seem this play was delivered, like the child in question, a little too early — more polishing and tightening is needed (especially the first act), and the actors need to work on lines and cues.

Haney has assembled a diligent ensemble to carry such a heavy load. Ryane is a stalwart Susan, remaining calm and stable even while the tempest rages around her. O’Reilly brings his considerable talents to a not easily likable role, resulting in a conflicted, convincing portrayal of a man too afraid to accept imperfection. Friedericy appears too youthful in the role of the put-upon physician, but humorously makes up for her apparent lack of experience. As the hospital staff, As Dragavon, Patricia Cullen, Greg Rusin, Lavinia Arriaza and Robert S. Ryan each contribute to the authentic, professional feel of the facility.

Adding a touch of human kindness in the sterile surroundings is actress Carissa Channing, whose portrayal of a naive nurse with a sparkling sincere bedside manner is refreshing and heartwarming. Clyman has given her some of the best thoughts in the play, and together they remind us that premature babies are special because "you don’t have to wait" to love them. Gil Johnson also contributes humor and humanity as the proud father of a "premie."

D. Silvio Volonte’s starkly realistic and imposing Eastern hospital setting heads the list of excellent technical contributions that are as much a tradition at the Colony as the homey atmosphere and quality productions. Under the technical direction of Hap Lawrence, the lighting of Jamie McAllister, costumes by Ted C. Giammona and sound by John Fisher are all topnotch. Bobby Muzingo’s original music is a bit syrupy but helps smooth out stage transitions effectively.

Producer Barbara Beckley proudly reports that the Colony , which started as a modest venture itself, is growing so rapidly and has so much audience support that it will soon expand into a full Equity house. Perhaps that growth best symbolizes, like the themes of When the Bough Breaks, what a little love and nurturing can accomplish.

Copyright 1993 Drama-Logue
Reprinted with Permission
When The Bough Breaks at the Colony Theatre