Theater | Spoil & Trouble: Billion Dollar Baby pulls its jabs at over-indulgent parenting. 

Pin It
click to enlarge art5551widea.jpg
There is no boxing in Billion Dollar Baby, the one-woman play by Julie Jensen making its world premiere this month at Salt Lake Acting Company. It is not a sequel or a parody of the 2004 film of similar name. Clint Eastwood is not associated with the production.

No, this is a play about parenting—the kind of indulgent parenting that is the bane of restaurant patrons everywhere. It’s also about the kind of overprotective parenting that makes us of the falling-off-of-things-and-learning-from-our-mistakes generations snicker and shake our heads in pity and disdain at these unfortunate bubble-children we see around our knees these days.

That’s how Polly Parchment—our narrator and the primary persona of actress Dee Macaluso—sees it, at least. A significant portion of my enjoyment of the show, however, is tied to my agreement with her. More than just agreeing with Polly, I like her. She’s a local theater journalist in Salt Lake City, which can’t help but endear her to me. She’s also a no-nonsense 1960s holdover who sings Doors songs under her breath while she gets ready to leave the house. She thinks that her son, Arden, and his “tight-ass” wife Daureen—Polly’s words, not mine—are doing untold damage to their young daughter, Bernie.

Arden and Daureen’s crime is not the traditional neglect-and-abuse paradigm of bad parenting but rather the opposite. They allow Bernie complete freedom of choice and unconditional love, support and protection. She is—in Daureen’s slow, faux-patient drone, also depicted by Macaluso—an “azure child.” I’ll spare you the details of this pet theory, but it is, in essence, a fictional amalgam of nuevo New-Age and pop-psychological excuses for not ever disciplining your child. It centers around Daureen’s phrases like, “Bernie is here to teach us, Grammy.”

While Polly relates her family dynamics and frustrations to us, Macaluso slips between their respective personas with ease, relating conversations and babysitting travails with authenticity. Her performance does not stoop to caricature or stereotypes. She is at her best when depicting interactions between Polly and granddaughter, Bernie. Bernie is 4—at least she’s going to be this week—and full of energy and observations. Macaluso does not for a moment give us the sense of a middle-age woman pretending to be a 4-year-old girl but rather channels Bernie’s intonation and effervescence directly from the nearest Montessori preschool.

Unfortunately, Jensen’s script is not always worthy of Macaluso’s talents. The individual character moments are handled well, and the scene-break commercials for the overengineered and decadently disposable child-care products stacked upstage are among the funniest parts of the show. But in terms of plotting and through-lines, the text falls short.

Jensen consistently pulls her punches. Promising new elements are introduced, and then fizzle without resolution or connection, relegating them to dramatic non sequiturs. We are at one point teased with the idea of a giant papier-mâché head of George W. Bush—though it’s never shown. A running metanarrative, wherein Polly works on an article about the trend of one-person shows in American theater, fails to pay off. Polly’s surprising and moving confession about a wrenching personal decision she faced at one point in her life doesn’t come up again or connect to the plot in any way and, therefore, ends up sounding like a political statement rather than a narrative decision.

So despite stunning performance(s) by Macaluso, the show left me somewhat unsatisfied. Playwright Anton Chekhov once famously observed that if you place a gun over the fireplace in Act I, someone needs to fire it by the end of Act III. Metaphorically, Billion Dollar Baby is filled with loaded rifles and abundant targets. Jensen seems unwilling to have any one of Macaluso’s many characters pull all the triggers.

BILLION DOLLAR BABY @ Salt Lake Acting Company, 168 W. 500 North, Nov. 7–Dec. 2. 363-7522

Pin It

About The Author

Rob Tennant

Rob Tennant is a Salt Lake City freelance writer.

More by Rob Tennant

  • Jingle Plays

    Two theater companies present family-friendly holiday productions.
    • Dec 10, 2013
  • Review: Pioneer Theatre Company's Other Desert Cities

    If Pioneer Theatre Company’s Other Desert Cities were one of your co-workers, it would be that guy down the hall who’s name is probably Jim, but you’re not sure enough to actually call him that out loud
    • Oct 29, 2013
  • Rent @ Utah Repertory Theater

    Review: Small-scale production muddles the modern classic
    • Sep 24, 2013
  • More »

Latest in Arts & Entertainment

  • Sinners and Saints

    SB Dance's interactive All Saints Salon takes audience members on a spooky adventure.
    • Oct 19, 2016
  • Between Heaven and Earth

    Stephanie Leitch's installation art in Interstices explores the space between things.
    • Oct 12, 2016
  • Going Gaga

    Choreographer Danielle Agami brings her creative roots to Élan.
    • Sep 28, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • O Christmas Towns

    If the North Pole is too far, visit these festive places.
    • Dec 16, 2015
  • Unfinished Business

    Bountiful Davis Art Center presents a unique artistic collaboration experiment.
    • Sep 7, 2016

© 2016 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation