Review: Rover Dramawerks' 'Little Footsteps' the pitter-patter of fine, if not funny, storytelling

12:27 AM CDT on Friday, July 29, 2005

By LAWSON TAITTE / The Dallas Morning News

ADDISON They're billing Little Footsteps as a comedy, but it often feels like a tragic farce (although somebody else has preempted that particular descriptor).

Ted Tally's play, which Rover Dramawerks revived on Friday, shows us the fears a couple married for eight years experiences when their first baby is only months away from delivery. The husband, Ben (Rick Dalton), writes promos for TV sports shows. He's a perpetual kid. That gives his wife, Joanie (Joslyn Justus), a certain amount of hope that he'll eventually be able to communicate with their child on its own level. But actually Ben is paralyzed with terror.

Throughout the long first act, the two characters talk more to the audience than to each other. They act out a few of their darkest fantasies. And, in fact, the characters already play a game in which they work out their anxieties about parenthood by zapping each other with impossible questions the child is going to ask sooner or later.

In technique, and to a certain degree in theme, Little Footsteps owes a lot to the better-known A Day in the Life of Joe Egg. In that play, the parents of a handicapped child dispel their frustrations by means of a continual stand-up act, telling jokes to the silent child as well as the audience. Ben in Little Footsteps too is a card, a natural comic who turns everything into a joke, sometimes of the harshest sort.

The play's second act takes place after the baby's birth. Joanie's parents (Terrie Justus and Ron L. Chapman) are trying to help, but the new mother is in such postpartum depression and panic that they think she's going crazy. Oddly, it's the physical humor in this act that moves the play more toward comedy. Otherwise it's rather a grim, if morbidly entertaining, piece. Rover is partnering with a childcare service, the Little Gym, to enable parents of young children to attend. That might not be such a good idea for particularly desperate housewives, or husbands.

Director David Nail's production, reviewed at Thursday's preview, mostly feels like decently adequate community theater. Mr. Dalton, however, offers something more. He builds up his frazzled character with one telling stroke after another. We see that Ben is a jerk, but we still like him and care about him and empathize with him. It's a very impressive performance.

Little Footsteps, presented by Rover Dramawerks at WaterTower Theatre's Studio Theatre, Addison Theatre and Conference Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Thursdays through Saturdays through Aug. 20. Runs 135 min. Tickets $12 to $16. Call 972-849-0358, or go to www.roverdramawerks.com.



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