“Caring for Baby,” from the Manhattan Theater Club

Dr. Millard is set to be discredited. At least Lynn, an oppressed politician chosen by the people, seems like someone we can root for, doesn’t she? Maybe not. Donna keeps saying that, of course, she loves Lynn’s support, but a lot of her anger seems to come from feelings for her mother. Besides, Donna’s crazy, isn’t she?

Mr. Kelly, who wrote the subversive book for the hit musical “Matilda” skillfully blurs our sympathies and confidence in the characters in this play, especially in the first act. On the spot to further muddy the waters are Donna’s ex-husband, Martin (François Battiste), and a shady journalist (as if there was another), played by Michael Crane.

Bolstered by an understated design team that finds eloquence in minimalism, Ms. Schmidt’s staging subtly shifts from clinical sharpness to neglect of a world without clear dividing lines. And the central performances clearly reflect this progression.

That Ms. Colin and Mr. Birney, esteemed veterans of the New York scene, achieve it so easily should come as no surprise. But Mrs. Bush is also cleverly ambivalent, giving sonic precision to the play’s most elusive role.

The performances are so believable that you wish the second half had allowed the acting to indirectly convey what the script states so clearly. There is unnecessary brutality in the coin’s attack on the spin machines that have become mandatory equipment for anyone courting or coming under mass media attention.

Mr Birney’s uneasy laughter expresses what is wrong about his Dr Millard so well that when he is stripped to his quivering heart by a faceless interrogator, it seems exaggerated. I got the same response to the final revelations involving Ms. Colin’s sweetly compassionate Lynn.

Still, it’s good to remember that there is no really true story. The moral of this production is conveyed most effectively in a scene towards the end, in which the hitherto largely silent Martin McAuliffe reluctantly agrees to be interviewed by the unspecified documentary maker (Zach Shaffer).

Martin’s condition for his cooperation is that he is only asked yes or no questions. Poor sap. In “Taking Care of Baby,” most of the answers fall into this bottomless yawning gap between yes and no.

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About Evan A. Ellis

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