Friday, May 4, 2012

Onore: Busy guy with a new "Baby"

Jeff Onore abandons 'a profound sense urban loneliness'
for modern farce in 'Robotic Baby,' his new full-length.
Jeff Onore is a funny guy. Meaning, um, that he’s a little off his rocker.  Of course, that’s not quite the spin Bonnie Lake puts on it, is it?  No, the Port actress, who plays the Mom in “Robotic Baby,” Onore’s latest, says the guy has “a unique point of view” — and an equally singular way of getting that point of view across. Which means that he’s a little … well, it’s been said, right? Which is fine. At least he’s not still churning out work filled with a “profound sense of urban loneliness,” which is how one Canadian critic described “A Busy Guy With Lots of Problems,” his one-man show and entry to the 2009 Atlantic Fringe Festival, a play that’s about ... well, it’s difficult to nail down, but explores themes of obsession and failed relationships. “Got to admit it sounds pretty good, whatever it means,” he says, “but I think I’ve moved past that.” Which is a good thing, turning away from that profound sense of urban loneliness, that is, because, like existential dread, a little urban loneliness, profound or otherwise, goes a long way.

In this show, Lake says, there is no shortage of the usual Onore signposts: the absurd, and the ridiculous, the sublimely funny, “But the underpinnings of every scene are the poignant realities of family life — raising children, joblessness, financial stress, relationships, marriage, friendship,” says Lake. “When you first have children, you are so completely, entirely in love with your little baby! It’s so all-encompassing, so physical, and everything brings you close into their physical world: bathing them, cuddling them, changing them. You’re constantly touching them, stroking them, kissing them, loving them up. They're so delicious! 
“Then, they become teenagers and you suddenly feel this enormous disconnect as they very appropriately live their own lives. All good. And yet, in a weird way, you yearn for those sweet baby times again; which I think isn’t really yearning for those times, so much as yearning for the closeness that you felt with that little being, as your teenager grunts at you and slams their bedroom door and stays out late.” Onore “just captures that completely! And for a funny, sexy show, it’s really entirely family centered.
But what’s it all about, this play, this “Robotic Baby”? You know ... all the usual stuff: Teen sex, pyromania and “Goodnight Moon.” What happens is that a robotic baby from a high school pregnancy-deterrence program gets a new home, and a mixed welcome, with an increasingly bewildered family. The baby, by the way, has no lines and, thankfully, has had its electronic guts taken out. “It’s a mime robot,” says Onore, whose plays “The Realtor” and “Psych Date” were staged at the New Works Festival, as was “Let Freedom Ring,” which won Best Short Play honors in 2007.

The press release, the first for Onore’s “entertainment empire,” describes “Robotic Baby,” tongue in cheek, we think, as a truly hilarious, side-splitting, snortingly funny full length.” Which, considering the playwright’s personality, might be a tad over the top.  It’s a “tour de force” that simultaneously embraces and rejects our notions of nuclear family, public education and normalcy itself.
Onore gave birth to this “Robotic Baby” seven years ago as a 10-minute piece at the 2005 New Works Festival. He knew that a story about a befuddled, sweet guy facing empty-nest syndrome and, ultimately, developing feelings for the robotic baby sent home with the kiddies to teach them how to take care of children, instead of teaching them how not to have babies, robotic or otherwise, was worth more than 10 minutes, but “it wasn’t clear to me how it could be expanded.” So he didn’t do anything, other than allow it to “germinate.” Which means, of course, that not a whole lot of scribbling went on. ”Every couple of years a scene would come to me,” he says. Then a year ago, it came bursting out. Why? “I don’t know,” he says. “My kids have been up and out for a long time? Climate change? Maybe. It’s a mysterious process.”

Directed by Suzanne Bryan, the former artistic director of Persephone Theater who is coming off two monster hits in the Port City: “Proof” and “Forbidden Newburyport,” the play will be staged May 18 to 20 at the Actors Studio, a small space he thinks is more intense, putting the audience right in the middle of the action. “It’s sweaty, it’s better,” he says. In addition to Lake, whom Onore calls “a freaking genius, hipper, edgier Lucille Ball, and, yes, I know that really dates me,” he says, the cast includes Tom Adams, Kimberly Holliday, Abby Seabrook and Cam Netland. Onore plays the principal — “insane and pompous,” is how he describes him.

And the play?

It’s not too crazy, it’s not heavy, it’s not too out there. It deals with real issues, but in a funny way— whether you’re a little off your rocker or not.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Jeff Onore’s “Robotic Baby” will be staged May 18 to 20 at The Actors Studio of Newburport, 50 Water St., The Tannery, Mill #1, Suite 5, Newburyport. The cast includes Bonnie Lake, Tom Adams, Kimberly Holliday, Abby Seabrook, Cam Netland and Jeff Onore.  Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $18, or $15 for students and seniors. For reservations and information, call 978-465-1229. Tickets are also available online through


  1. Nice coverage. Bonnie Lake is a genius and understands and embodies Onore's work better than anyone.

    Btw, I'm not sure the writer is fully acquainted with Onore's previous work. The “profound sense of urban loneliness" observation was a compliment. That show was entirely fresh, hilariously funny, deeply moving, and unconventional in that trademark Onore way that can be so difficult to pin down. I haven't often found performers who can make unconventionality so accessible, entertaining and unpretentious.

    I wouldn't describe this unconventionality as Onore being "off his rocker" -- it's more that the world is off its rocker and Onore has an instinct for capturing that in an unfamiliar way. Watching his shows, I find myself thinking, "Yes...exactly!...damn that's so true... OMG, YES!... Aaargh!..." That's why the laughter of the audience is so heartfelt, knowing, and grateful.

  2. Nice article. I love Bonnie... I'm a local roofing contractor in Newburyport. I'm bringing my whole company to the show later this month! :)