And Baby Makes Comedy

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Thinking about having a baby can ruin your relationship. Actually having a baby? Well, that can ruin your relationship too, at least according to Daniel Goldfarb's Cradle and All, a two-act comedy in which Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller play neighboring couples Claire and Luke (childless) and Annie and Nate, who have an 11-month-old insomniac on their hands.

Goldfarb doesn't do much with his topic other than crack wise about living a certain kind of life in New York City. Having the same two actors play all the characters gives the play an off-putting feeling, as if there's some connection to be made that we're missing. Should we see more of Claire and Luke in Annie and Nate? Other than Claire and Nate's shared career as actors, there's not much similarity between the foursome.

Mostly Goldfarb revels in what not having or what having a baby means to couples. Claire finds herself looking at the wrong wend of 40, and suddenly desperate to reneg on her previous baby agreement with Luke. Instead of being fine sans children, she now craves a baby, which leads her to online shop for baby clothes that she has no reason to actually buy. And Nate and Annie are barely present for one another, more obsessed with blaming their baby for the state of their marriage than in making an effort.

Goldfarb has created what amounts to a stage-bound sitcom: Two couples at different stages in their lives, struggling to Have It All in the Big City. If Dizzia and Keller didn't play all four characters, you could almost hear the mechanical laugh track, roaring at the whizzing one-liners (Goldfarb does have a way with a zinger, and Dizzia and Keller know exactly what is required to put them over) and "aw"ing at the tender moments.

Luckily, director Sam Buntrock is on hand to bolster the performers' idiosyncracies, keeping the proceedings somewhat fresh (even as Annie and Nate endlessly talk about how their newborn has deprived them of sleep). Both Dizzia and Keller craft carefully different characters, all artifice and style as Claire and Luke and schlubby, rage-filled exhaustion as Annie and Nate. That Claire and Luke's story is more interesting than Annie and Nate's more obvious plot isn't their fault; who wouldn't have more fun as the glamorously flawed couple who wake up one day to find that their life of Nobu take-out and Apartment Therapy recipes is an adolescent's ideal of adulthood?

Dizzia, last seen in Adam Rapp's humorless The Hallway Trilogy, is a delight here as both Claire and Annie, digging past Goldfarb's occasionally obvious writing (an actress worried about turning 40! An exhausted woman wondering if she's a good mother!) to find the soul of both women. And Keller is almost unrecognizable from the first act to the second, as the affected, lock-jawed Luke and then as the goofy Nate. They both makeCradle and All seem heftier than what it really is: a featherweight trifle about parenthood that stylishly paraphrases everything we've already heard on the topic.

Cradle and All
Through June 19, New York City Center Stage I, 131 W. 55th St. (betw. 6th and 7th Aves.),; $80.

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