by Bailey Green
Taking Care of Baby is a verbatim/documentary style play focusing on the story of Donna McAuliffe—a woman accused of murdering her two infants. The play uses testimony from those closest to McAuliffe to dig deeper in search of the truth. There’s just one catch—Donna doesn’t exist. It’s all fake.
Miranda Calderon takes on the role of Donna at the Storefront Theatre in Taking Care of Baby, a fake documentary play written by Dennis Kelly. Director Birgit Schreyer Duarte read the script years ago and shared it with Calderon as part of another project they were collaborating on at the time that focused on the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. “Birgit and I worked together for the first time years ago when we did a SummerWorks show that was an adaptation of a novel,” Calderon recalls. “We both found that we really enjoyed the collaborative process of working together. In the years since, she has had so much more experience directing shows, assisting at Stratford and Canadian Stage where she works as a dramaturge and translator. We’ve both grown, and of course we benefit from being close friends. It’s a treat, and we feel incredibly lucky to be working on this project. And everyone involved is so incredibly wonderful and professional.”
By the time we meet Donna McAuliffe, she has already endured a brutal life. She lost two babies and suspicion surrounded the circumstances of their death. She was convicted of murder, sentenced to life and then eventually exonerated with the help of her mother. And now, estranged from her husband, childless, and reeling from 14 months in prison, Donna is living at home trying to put her fractured life back together.
Calderon approached the role with a desire to understand the intense experiences her character has been through. She researched prison life and reached out to a friend who works as a defence attorney to better understand the process of a murder trial. Calderon also has a very personal tie to the subject matter of the play. “I’m pregnant for the first time, so when I found out [about the baby] this summer and then when the project was selected by Storefront for their season, I was just wow-ed by the odd timing,” Calderon says. “I wondered whether it was a good idea to put myself in this world while I’m pregnant. But at the same time there was something so exciting and interesting about that coincidence. It’s only added to the process.”
McAuliffe is surrounded by a varied cast of characters, all with their own opinions about whether she did or did not murder her children. The actors often play multiple roles, some of which include: Donna’s mother the politician (Astrid Van Wieren), the estranged husband (Dylan Trowbridge) and more. Donna’s defence hangs on a new diagnosis by a psychologist named Dr. Millard (played by Richard Clarkin). Millard has diagnosed Donna with Leeman-Keatley Syndrome (a fictional disease) where a mother is so overwhelmed by the empathy she feels for the world’s suffering that she turns on the source of her pain, namely her children.
“A big part of this process has been the struggle to determine what’s true, what’s not true, who can I trust […] it’s part of what the audience is going through at the same time,” Calderon says when asked about how the style and format of the play affect the story. “When we realize that we were wrong about people, it can be so unsettling. It happens with people we are intimate with, with colleagues, and then public figures as well. The characters in the play operate on all three of those levels and so the audience goes through this questioning with us.”
Taking Care of Baby
Presented by The Care Takers at The Storefront Theatre
Featuring: Miranda Calderon, Richard Clarkin, Caroline Gillis, Craig Lauzon, Dylan Trowbridge, Astrid Van Wieren
Written By: Dennis Kelly
Directed By: Birgit Schreyer Duarte
Set Design: Michelle Tracey
Lighting Design: Steve Lucas
Costume Design: Amanda Wong
Sound Design: Matthew Pencer
Video Design: Remington North
Producers: Miranda Calderon & Adam Paolozza
When: January 29th to February 14th, Wednesday through Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday Matinee @ 2pm
Where: The Storefront Theatre – 955 Bloor St. W, Toronto
Tickets: $20-$25, Advance tickets available here.