Everything in Baby Screams Miracle, Clare Barron’s 2015 play, swirls around a storm. This epic monster of a weather event befalls a small, deeply religious family. Into its maelstrom comes an estranged daughter, as well as flying tree limbs and a trampoline. There’s very little for these people to do but sit and wait and pray.
“The play was originally written to be performed in New York, and I knew that most of the audience would not be religious,” says playwright Clare Barron. “With that in mind, I knew that I wanted the characters to be practicing Christians, but I wasn't interested in making them seem strange or ‘different’ in any way. I personally identify as a Christian, although I take a kind of radical view to it. The characters in the play are more conservative than me. But like the characters in the play, I have a lot of shame that I'm working through. And I want to be a kind person and lead a meaningful life. There's lots of ways to do those things, I think. These characters just happen to use Christianity and prayer as a vehicle for their self-evolution and growth.”
Barron admits to being curious about how practicing Christians view the show. Houston demographics being what they are, odds are those in the Bayou City are more religious than their Big Apple counterparts. But Baby Screams Miracle isn’t a ponderous religious tract. It’s challenging and odd and often funny—exactly the kind of show that Catastrophic not only gravitates toward, but does well.
“I just think life's very funny, and I try to be honest about it,” Barron says of her writing. “I think honesty and humor go hand-in-hand. All my plays are comedies, but it's not a conscious decision to make them so. I will say, though, that the play is brutal in a way, and I do think the comedy provides some relief from that brutality.”
Baby Screams Miracle is one of Barron’s earlier works. As she was writing it, she says, she was still exploring her own voice and how she could best bring her talents to the world of theater.
“I think this is the first script I ever did revisions on,” she says. “I remember radically re-ordering the scenes of the play on my ex-boyfriend's bathroom floor. It was so liberating and terrifying at the same time to really dig in like that.”
That sense of liberation and terror should come across in Baby Screams Miracle, as the characters stumble through the catastrophe they’ve endured and where they look for comfort and redemption. They are not perfect people. Sometimes, they are not exemplary people. They’re ordinary people living through an extraordinary event. Between their own wits and their faith, they find some way to come through it.
“I think the thing that surprised me most about the play when I was writing it is that there's all this faith in it—religion and prayer,” Barron says. “But then there's also a masturbation scene. Or, characters have outlandish sexual fantasies. And there's no shame in that. No judgment is passed. It's considered normal. I like the juxtaposition of those two things.”
For audiences who’ve come to expect those kinds of juxtapositions from Catastrophic, Baby Screams Miracle should be just thing to put on the must-see list.
Runs through Dec. 15 at MATCH, 3400 Main St. $40 suggested price for tickets. Go to catastrophictheatre.com for more information.