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Babyteeth – Belvoir

Cancer is dug out of the 'not funny' basket in a new Australian play.
By Rima Sabina Aouf
February 16, 2012
By Rima Sabina Aouf
February 16, 2012

Cancer: Generally deep down in the 'not funny' basket. It's almost natural, then, that big-dreaming writers will take that as a challenge. Young playwright Rita Kalnejais has found the comedic key with her new work, Babyteeth, commissioned especially for Belvoir.

It’s a bit of an ode to a childhood friend of Kalnejais', so there's a very real and giving tone to this bittersweet story, whose cast of eccentrics are each affected by the sharply declining health of 14-year-old Milla (Sara West). She's a child aware she'll be missing womanhood, and the dead are speaking to her of the beauty of the world. When a drug-addicted 25-year-old, Moses (Eamon Farren), swoops in to tend to her nosebleed, he may be saving her life, and she his.

Although some of the characters emerge as caricatures — a mini assault on your warm, Zen journey — others are so wonderful you curse the moment they'll skip off the whirling set and leave you. Babyteeth has a beautiful heart, and it is parents Henry (Greg Stone) and Anna (Helen Buday) as they struggle to cope with their daughter's approaching death and try to give her the experience of a full life before it. When one or both of these characters is on stage — whether they're negligently but understandably mixing barbiturates, emotionally adopting the wayward girl next door, or clumsily trying to revive their romance in between appointments — the play is at its most electrifying.

Director Eamon Flack has a great sense of the playful in a text (as he's shown with his As You Like It and A Midsummer Night's Dream), and he and Kalnejais have perfectly balanced the light and dark in Babyteeth. It's a striking night of theatre that spills you out onto a sweeter-smelling Belvoir Street when it's done.

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