Warning: Children may cause exhaustion, sexual deprivation, and marital stress. It's not a terribly new insight, and Daniel Goldfarb's cautionary tale of bourgeois suffering in Brooklyn Heights doesn't break any fresh ground.
Theater Schmeater, 1500 Summit Ave., 800-838-3006, schmeater.org. $15-$23. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. Ends Feb. 18.
Directed by J.D. Lloyd, Cradle and All is anchored by the captivating Alyson Bedford, whose mercurial beauty, comic timing, and emotional intensity redeem the two stereotypical roles she's condemned to play. In the first act, she's Claire, a pretty 41-year-old actress who sets out (armed with "a dozen dozen roses" and a bowl of scented nuts) to convince her younger boyfriend Luke (Matthew Middleton) to have a baby with her. The underwritten Luke, an antiquarian who buys Claire jewels and says "Tut-tut," mostly just seems to exist to block her maternal desire. Things devolve into a dark night of the soul for these two, in which she explains why she so badly wants a child and he accuses her of changing the script of their relationship. It's a relief when a neighbor stops by to oh-so-symbolically borrow an egg. The contrivance doesn't make Claire's desperation any less affecting, though.
Act 2 takes us to the neighboring apartment of Nate and Annie (also Middleton and Bedford, now transformed into haggard, dorky baby-slaves), with a set now dressed in homey stripes and plaid—unlike the cool urban sophistication of Claire and Luke's place. Nate and Annie fret, fight, and flounder through their first night of letting their year-old daughter cry herself to sleep. (The baby monitor is switched off for most of the play, thank goodness.)
With sheer vigor and commitment, Middleton and Bedford somehow manage to make the play's potentially irritating before-and-after premise enjoyable. The second couple has more character and chemistry than the first, physically attacking each other, breaking stuff, joking about their religion (Judaism), and resorting to such low insults as "Slytherin!" and "Hufflepuff!" (as in Harry Potter). They're insecure, frustrated, and amusingly terrified by parenthood. These two—not Claire and Luke—are clearly Goldfarb's heroes; they, the play makes clear, have chosen the braver path. Parents who've hired a sitter for the show may wearily agree. Couples contemplating conception may not buy Goldfarb's self-validation. But at least both camps will agree on the quality of the acting.