“BUMP” Theater Review by Andrea Santo Felcone

Playwright Chiara Atik’s new play “BUMP” is essentially three different stories, all intertwined in a series of vignettes, about pregnancy and childbirth. One story emphasizes our modern-day world—pregnant women chatting on an online message board—(each at the same stage of pregnancy) supporting each other; a second story is about the past–a terrified Colonial woman (played by Lucy DeVito) experiencing labor alone—except for her (acerbic) midwife (played by actress Jenny O’Hara). The third story–the central story that the other stories springboard from—is a story of a loving Hispanic family, the daughter, Claudia (played by Ana Nogueira—she reminds one of a younger Amanda Peet), experiencing her first pregnancy with her loving parents, Luis (Gilbert Cruz—a scene stealer) and Maria (Adriana Sananes).

Luis, although a caring father, was not a part of Claudia’s birth. He is now being given a second chance through the impending birth of his first grandchild. Claudia wants to have an at-home water birth, attended by a midwife. She becomes obsessed with reading online pregnancy boards—(acted out in the aforementioned vignettes that weave through the play) to quell her pregnancy concerns. Claudia’s worries are transferred to Luis and Maria—particularly Luis. One night, Luis stays up late and stumbles upon a “YouTube” video featuring a man extracting a cork from a long-necked bottle by inserting a rolled plastic bag in the bottle, inflating the bag, and then easily pulling the cork out of the bottle. In a dream later that night, Luis connects the dots … the cork in the video could represent a baby trying to emerge from a mother’s womb. The plastic bag could be part of a device he creates to extract a distressed baby. By morning Luis has put together his first prototype of what has the potential to become a groundbreaking medical device.

BUMP show

Photo by: Gerry Goodstein. Ana Nogueira (Claudia), Adriana Sananes (Maria) and Gilbert Cruz (Luis).

While a car mechanic coming up with a device to aid babies in distressed labor may sound far-fetched—that aspect of “BUMP” is based on a true story. Atik had read a 2013 New York Times article based on the real-life Luis–a man named Jorge Odón. Odón was in fact an Argentinian car mechanic who created what became the “Odón device” after seeing that “YouTube” video about the cork and the bottle. Today, the “Odón device” is in its third phase of testing, and results have been so promising, they have led to the pursuit of clinical trials. (How remarkable that a “YouTube” video led a car mechanic to an innovation in a field so outside his realm.) How interesting that this fact became a central theme in a play—is birth biological or mechanical? Or something more?

“BUMP” is the product of a partnership between the Ensemble Studio Theatre and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Science & Technology Project. Atik, who has several plays to her credit, and has written for NBC’s sitcom “Superstore,” answered an open call for science-based submissions from Sloan to create this play. The article on Odón became the seed of inspiration for “BUMP”. Atik also used conversations with her pregnant friends to help portray the very real, down-to-earth, and relatable conversations of this play—all very funny. (The message board women, the Greek chorus of the play, have “themed days” like “WTF Wednesdays”—where they go into great detail about what is happening in their lives and to their bodies at each stage of their pregnancy.) There is a humorous scene where Luis takes his crude prototype to Claudia’s ob-gyn and has other pregnant women in the waiting room observe him testing it out on a toy doll. The play is entertaining to its core, and while it would be great for moms, future moms, pregnant women, girlfriends, it is funny enough to please a general audience.

The staging of the online screen message board aspect of this play was handled in a very clever way; kudos to Director Claudia Weill and Scenic Designer Kristen Robinson. A cut-out portion of the wall behind the actors served as the “screen”. In one scene, Maria asks Luis to lower the volume on the “YouTube” video, and the “YouTube Guy” (actor Jonathan Randell Silver) immediately lowered his voice. The actors who played the online message board women were brilliant in their comic timing.

BUMP show

Photo by: Gerry Goodstein. Message Board Women: Erica Lutz, Kelly Anne Burns, Susan Hyon, Laura Ramadei, Kristen Adele, and Kelli Lynn Harrison.

The performance I attended was followed by a talkback on midwives, doulas, and childbirth in Colonial times. It featured historian Rebecca Tannenbaum, author of “The Healer’s Calling: Women and Medicine in Early New England,” Doula trainer Debra Pascali-Bonaro, and playwright Chiara Atik, and was moderated by Robin Marantz Henig, contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine. Tannenbaum noted that most of what Atik had presented was true of Colonial times (except for one part where the play’s midwife used forceps—that was dramatic license, as only physicians during that time would have done so). Perhaps the most interesting fact conveyed was that in the period between 1780 and 1820, physicians needed women to lie down for delivery, that it was easier for the physician, so that became prevalent and has stayed with us until modern-day. Although Pascali-Bonaro reiterated that gravity and movement generally make delivery easier for women and babies. “Stand and deliver; don’t take it lying down” was her motto.

BUMP show

Photo by: Gerry Goodstein. Jenny O’Hara (Midwife) and Lucy De Vito (Mary).

At one point in the play, Claudia is having premature contractions and Luis is calming her down. When Luis starts to say … “Birth is …” Claudia interrupts him and says, “Mechanical, I know …” and Luis replies, “No … miraculous”.  Birth is miraculous, and this show is a wonderful reminder of the astounding capabilities of the human body, as well as the ingenuity of the human mind.

“BUMP” is fresh and funny—at times ‘laugh out loud’ funny. It is playing at the Ensemble Studio Theatre (545 West 52nd Street, NYC) through June 3rd. It is well worth seeing, and Chiara Atik is one to put on your radar. Running Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes, no intermission. For tickets: http://www.ensemblestudiotheatre.org/current-season-1/2018/5/9/bump

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