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A medical emergency interrupts State Theatre Company’s production of Babyteeth. Somehow the disturbance seems poignant in a black comedy about the death of a pubertal girl. The break also highlights the pedestrian nature of the play because once the audience returns to the theatre there is no discernible loss of momentum, tone or atmosphere on stage. Worse still, this stoppage emphasises that Rita Kalnejais’ script falls short in its attempt to illustrate love and loss through the minutiae of life and dependency via the use of ironic humour.

From the start the play lays all of its cards on the table. Milla (Danielle Catanzariti), a 14-year-old girl, dies. There are no aces to play. Her death happens within the first couple of minutes. After that, the back-story unfolds on an excellent set of louvered walls, modest furniture, and some neat lighting.

Milla is at the train station waiting to go to her violin lesson when she meets Moses (Matt Crook) who is a homeless, junkie and soon-to-be paedophile. He asks her for money and she gives him fifty dollars in exchange for a haircut. Meanwhile, her mother Anna (Claire Jones) is attempting to seduce Milla’s father, Henry (Chris Pitman) but he’s all fingers and thumbs. When Milla brings Moses home to meet her parents they do not react well. “She’s illegal you know,” Henry warns Moses and Anna runs for a shelter of drug induced composure before pointing out that Moses is 25-years-old.

The story feels contrived. All the characters are taking drugs for one purpose or another. Milla needs them to ease the pain caused by her leukaemia, Henry self-medicates, Anna takes mothers-little-helpers and Moses is a dealer. The plot had the potential to be great. Unfortunately, it’s been turned into a tedious, uneven production. Even the fine acting on display cannot elevate the play above the mediocre. Catanzariti is simply superb as a young girl losing a battle to cancer and yet remaining emotionally the strongest of the leading characters. Crook is excellent as the disreputable Moses and Pitman is fine as Henry; a befuddled psychiatrist. Arguably, Jones, after Catanzariti, has the strongest presence and she certainly has the opportunity to demonstrate the widest range of emotions. However, even her talents cannot make it believable that a mother would condone paedophilia between a twenty-five year old man and her underage daughter.

An ambitious, but superficial exploration of an powerful, complex subject, Baby Teeth often has the feel of a sentimentalised, dramatic-comedy. A missed opportunity? Maybe! But the play is well worth seeing for the quality of the performances specially from Jones and Catanzariti.

Read an interview with Danielle Cantanzariti about the play and her character Milla here. 

Presented by the State Theatre Company, Babyteeth is on at the Space Theatre until September 7. Tickets here.

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