‘Barking Girl,’ an Endearing Gut-Check About Pregnancy

Barking Girl featuring Adina Taubman Photo credit Isaiah TanenbaumIsaiah Tanenbaum Adina Taubman plays Rae.

Time is passing Rae by, no matter what she has to say about it. At least, that’s the sense we get as the exposition in Susan Bernfield’s “Barking Girl,” now at 4th Street Theatre, shuffles from the discussion of a baby, to pregnancy, to her first argument with her husband.

Played with an acerbic bite by Adina Taubman, Rae is fiercely self-reliant, and reluctant to begin her current period of “settling down.” Her deepest worry is conveyed in an anecdote about a museum visit that was ruined because a seemingly mentally disabled girl kept barking “ART!”: Rae is living, not quite fully, a solipsistic fantasy, and she is terrified of having a “different” child.

This isolated mental world is portrayed to great effect by Carolyn Mraz’s stripped-down but still fantastical set, as well as the writing. Rae’s husband Gil, a quintessentially perfect sitcom dad played by Max Arnaud, is everything she’s not. He is incomprehensible to her, and his goofy naiveté is refreshing in the face of Rae’s all-encompassing dissatisfaction. (Rae, a bit of a “barking girl” herself, is a fascinating and enjoyable character, but people like that rarely make good company in real life.)

Gil is genuinely a good father, and points out the theatricality of parenthood precisely when Rae is wont to rhapsodize about being Sylvia Plath. That these metatextual comments come from such a likeable character, innocently, lends them a certain playfulness.

Amazed at Rae’s unhappiness despite Gil’s innate parenting skills, Rae’s sister Becca (perhaps the realest character in terms of dialogue and demeanor) serves as somewhat of a psychologist for her sibling. She’s no seductress, however: she’s a lesbian with prospects of parenthood herself. There is some turbulence when she propositions Gil to be the sperm donor. Meanwhile, Rae runs into a certain charming man more and more while her husband is away on business trips…

It’s hard to believe Mrs. Bernfield wrote this piece around ten years ago. The claustrophobic culture around parenting seems to be even more pronounced now than it was a decade ago, and Rae’s predicament seems not unlike a particularly gloomy Park Slope transplant of the past couple years. But the funny, heartfelt “Baking Dog” isn’t just for the double stroller crowd— those with Organic Spirits in their canvas bags are equally sure to find themselves in this anti-mom.

“Barking Girl,” through Dec. 2 at 4th Street Theatre, 83 East Fourth Street (between Second Avenue and Bowery); tickets $18 at www.chrysalistheatrecompany.com or (866) 811-4111.