Bump, a play by Chiara Atik that is as entertaining as it is informative, intertwines three different threads about pregnancy and childbirth – the most surprising of which turns out to be based on a true story.
One thread follows six pregnant women who participate in a message board for “December moms.” The women compare symptoms (“Are anyone else’s boobs sore?”) and complaints (“strangers coming up and touching me”, “nurses who only refer to me as ‘mom’”) as well as fears and feelings, triumphs and tragedies, at intervals starting at five weeks and ending at 39 weeks. Their conversation is funny and fascinating, and at times moving.
A second storyline takes us to a snowy night in 1790 in a small village in Maine, when a midwife (Jenny O’Hara) pays a visit to Mary (Lucy DeVito), in order to help in the delivery of her first child. It is a process that proves grueling, but remains amusing because of the contrast between the comically agitated Mary and the calm midwife.
The third thread, the most involved and most involving of the three, begins with an accountant named Claudia (Ana Nogueira) announcing to her parents in an unorthodox way that she is pregnant; she gives them a gift box with an appleseed inside. Her mother Maria (Adriana Sananes) gets it right away, and is overjoyed. Her father Luis (Gilbert Cruz) is baffled. “That’s how small your grandchild is right now,” his daughter tells him. Claudia is also planning an unorthodox birth; she tells her folks she is going to have the baby at home, sitting in a “birthing pool” she’ll put in the middle of her living room, so that the baby will transition smoothly from amniotic fluid to water.
Her mother disapproves.
Maria: You’re just gonna give birth next to the couch?
Claudia: We’re gonna put down a tarp.
Maria: That’s so messy! All that gunk.
Claudia: That gunk is natural, it’s a natural part of life.
Maria: It’s natural, but that doesn’t mean you want a placenta on the coffee table…
Besides, Maria tells Claudia, by the time she’s lived through nine months of a pregnancy, “you’re going to want to give birth surrounded by doctors in a hospital, trust me.”
“I hate hospitals,” Claudia replies, and tells an anecdote about a botched hospital delivery, in which the infant got stuck in the birth canal, that makes her father Luis feel ill and leave the room. (“This is why he waited in the waiting room,” Maria explains about her own pregnancy.)
“Bump” then takes a completely unexpected and delightful turn. Late that night in their bedroom, Luis is idly watching a YouTube video showing a “cool trick” on how to remove a cork placed inside a narrow-necked bottle, and he comes up with an inspiration – a simple medical device that will gently birth a stuck baby using the same mechanical principle that got the cork out of that bottle. Claudia progresses in her pregnancy as Luis develops his invention; both give birth at around the same time.
Luis’s invention, as we’re told in the program, is for real, and it happened just that way: A car mechanic from Argentina was watching a YouTube video about getting a cork out of a bottle.
The three alternating threads in “Bump” allow for smooth transitions, and Director Claudia Weill makes the most of the small stage at Ensemble Studio Theater. For the pregnancy message board, the actresses line up side by side in a little window in the back wall, reciting what their characters are writing on the board. If they sometimes feel too cramped for comfort (the characters, after all, are writing online from the isolation of their own home or hospital room), this also serves as a metaphor for how pregnancy can feel claustrophobic…and maybe also how expectant mothers can feel close to people going through the same thing. That window is used to better effect for a live version of the YouTube video, with the YouTube guy (Jonathan Randell Silver) enacting and re-enacting the trick, as Luis plays the video over and over again, sometimes at high volume, sometimes muted. To mark the transition from a modern apartment to a 1790 log cabin, we see a blast of snow in the doorframe at outset of each new scene.
The acting in “Bump” is all fine, none finer than Gilbert Cruz as Luis, who is at first hilariously clueless but winds up being the most clued-in of all the characters; the scene of his demonstrating his contraption at a gynecological waiting room is memorable. “Bump” provides some laughs and some welcome enlightenment even to theatergoers who may be more clueless than Luis was.
Ensemble Studio Theater
Written by Chiara Atik. Directed by Claudia Weill
Set design by Kristen Robinson, lighting design by Gina Scherr, costume design by Suzanne Chesney, sound design by M.L. Dogg
Cast: Kristen Adele, Kelly Anne Burns, Gilbert Cruz, Lucy DeVito,
Kelli Lynn Harrison, Susan Hyon, Erica Lutz, Ana Nogueira, Jenny O’Hara, Laura Ramadei, Adriana Sananes and Jonathan Randell Silver
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Tickets: $30-$40. Students and seniors with ids: $25
Bump is scheduled to run through June 3, 2018