By writing Mom Baby God’s central character Destinee Grace Ramsey as a likable, “trying-to-find-her-place-in-the world” young woman speaking her own truths, playwright Madeline Joey Rose has created Mom Baby God to be memorable. And it is.
Performing the character of Destinee Grace, actor Madeline Joey Rose has made the Taffety Punk production of Mom Baby God into impressive political theater by not making Destinee a stick-figure fool or right-wing wingnut.
So, what is Mom Baby God about? This is taken from Taffety Punk marketing material:
It’s 2020 and the anti-abortion movement has a new sense of urgency. Teens 4 Life is live on Instagram from the Students for Life of America Conference, and right-wing teenagers are vying for popularity while preparing for political battle. Our tour guide is fourteen-year-old Destinee Grace Ramsey, from Indiana, ascending to prominence as the new It-Girl of the Christian right while struggling to contain her crush on John Paul, a flirtatious Christian boy with blossoming YouTube stardom and a purity ring. The production takes place at a Students 4 Life conference to discuss Planned Parenthood, the need for abstinence until marriage, and how to combat the reproductive rights movement.
Under the very deft direction of Lise Bruneau, Mom Baby God is a potent moral drama that demands our attention. The one-actor, multi-character play has performer Madeline Joey Rose portray many characters of different ages and genders. It takes place in a progression of about ten scenes. (There are scenes with plot points that run a bit too long, sapping energy from the intermission-free 90-minute play).
The various scenes include an introduction to Destinee Grace as her extroverted social media persona, and the physical world living in Indiana where she is a shyer 14-year-old adoptee living with her Grandmother. Then it is off to the national Students 4 Life conference where Destinee meets up with an assortment of teens and adults who are true believers in the message that Planned Parenthood is the embodiment of evil.
At the conference, Destinee Grace meets up with her first crush, singer John Paul from a boy group called PRAISE CR3W. John Paul, who holds solid anti-abortion views, seems to remind her of another crush of hers, Justin Bieber. Then there are scenes populated with adults such as an anti-abortion firebrand Father Bryan Dwayne, as well as from the shame and guilt-inducing Lila Rose representing the pro-life views. These two adults come off as either buffoons or villains meant to be hissed and booed. They are one-dimensional ideologues. But, no matter. The character Destinee comes away as untainted; there is a decency about her even as we disagree with her opinions. Then when her erstwhile peers turn on her out of jealousy, Destinee becomes ever so vulnerable in an authentic manner. There is a defeated aura to her. She is lost and seeks out some amazing grace for safety and protection. The audience gets to decide how that works out.
The production’s creative team has a small space to deal with, but soon enough the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop black box is no longer. We the audience are anywhere that the play takes us. The production team includes Crista Noel Smith for set and props, Chris Curtis for lighting design, Tessa Lew for costume design, Kenny Neal for sound design and Patrick Lord for projections design.
Now, let me also add these words from playwright Rose’s program notes. Rose noted that she had grown up during the years that George W. Bush was President. As a college student and reproductive rights activist, she had gone undercover to crisis pregnancy centers (or ‘pregnancy resource centers’ as they are rebranding themselves). “I attended conferences and rallies, and interviewed right-wing activists,” Rose writes. “What struck me most were the conversations I had with young people in the movement, especially teen girls. How could they be such passionate advocates for a movement that ultimately, strips them of their rights?” (Note: These words struck me deeply. I was a Federal senior career staffer within the Department of Health and Human Services as Bush Administration abstinence-only grants were being announced and awarded. I was aware of issues surrounding purity rings which were real, not a theatrical invention. Playwright Rose’s research seems right to me, if that matters).
Readers may also want to read this recent interview my DCMTA colleague John Stoltenberg had with Madeline Joey Rose for many insights about the play.
Mom Baby God is a challenging script with a very worthy production. How does one respond to a young teen saying “I am alive because my mom did not abort me, but put me up for adoption?” The issues raised all too sadly remain with us given the current Administration’s priorities in the area of reproductive health and freedom. At the performance I attended, there was a great deal of audience laughter at some of the lines and predicaments. For me, my laughter was more subdued and less often. I was taken with the honesty of what was before me and the terrain that playwright Rose left for us to work through.
I was also taken by the manner in which Rose made shame and confusion something that both a teen girl and a teen boy could experience. Most of all, I was taken with this: the Taffety Punk production is not dismissive of its central character’s predicament. What Madeline Joey Rose has accomplished is stirring as a roadmap. That roadmap includes the title Mom Baby God which is explained in the play.
Running Time: About 90 minutes, with no intermission.