Tacoma has quite a history of small, independent theater in odd venues, and “Anchor Baby” is one of them. Mounted by Dukesbay Productions, who’ve been responsible for the “Java Tacoma” live local sit-com and other creative shows, Richard Tucker’s “Anchor Baby” opened Friday night at First Congregational Church and tells a culture-clash tale of what happens when brash, clueless Americans plonk themselves into the peaceful society of the fictional island of Mehlot. It’s a mostly fun piece of theater but the acting has some holes and the script is about as about as subtle as a lead hammer.
Dukesbay is a group of community theater folks with an emphasis on cast diversity. For this show they also have a star-studded production line-up which sets a professional tone from the moment you walk into the church’s musty alleyway door: Set designer Scott Campbell (formerly Lakewood Playhouse and Tacoma Little Theatre) has made a gorgeous tropical-apartment set out of an uninspiring church basement room, along with painter Maggie Knott (also formerly Lakewood). Composer Allan Loucks adds a quasi-steel-band touch to the scene change music.
The acting is less professional. James Gilletti (a local regular) and Chevi Chung play the biracial couple Bobby and Alita Anchor, who live on the idyllic Pacific island of Mehlot are expecting their first baby. Gilletti’s Bobby, the local TV news anchor with dual American-Mehlotti citizenship (clever wordplay here) is Mr. Nice Guy, exactly how you’d imagine a TV anchor to act at home. Chung makes a ever-kind Alita but delivers each line as if to a slightly deaf grandparent – odd for a character who’s supposed to have graduated from Rutgers. As they deal with the sudden arrival of Bobby’s embarrassingly racist parents and rebel teen daughter, the plot thickens but the acting doesn’t. Curt Beech, as Bobby’s ignorant and offensive father Jack, drops a lot of lines and acts like a wooden board; Elizabeth Gibson is at least convincing as the eye-rolling teenager Charlene but is given too many flounces and unbelievable actions from indoor graffiti to shooting someone.
No, it’s the older women who carry the play. As Bobby’s mom Phyllis, Laurie Sifford hits the perfect combination of scheming bossiness and housewifely fuss, while Aya Hashiguchi, who along with Bryan Yambe plays a string of Mehlotti locals, infuses every character from joking factory worker to sweet mother-in-law with convincing passion.
As Bobby’s parents progress from insulting the locals to capitalizing the economy and fixing the elections, and Alita gets increasingly fed-up (and pregnant) the script begins to let everyone down. America’s boorishness and cultural insensitivity is an important point to get across, but Federal Way playwright D. Richard Tucker belabors not only his point but every gag and every scene, not much aided by director Randy Clark’s everyone-sitting-in-chairs blocking. The prose gets purple (like when Charlene pulls a knife and threatens, “I will slice you! I will dice you!”), and as a thought-piece on biracial families and post-colonialist awareness the whole thing’s almost insultingly simplistic.
Nevertheless it’s great to see a topic like this on stage, and “Anchor Baby” is basically a fun piece of theater – especially the ending.
7:30 p.m. May 5, 6, 11, 12, 18 and 19. $12. First Congregational Church, 918 Division Ave., Tacoma. 253-267-0869, dukesbay.org