Suzette and Alex Jenson live in an upscale Pittsburgh suburb, she a devoted stay-at-home mom and he the growing star of an environmentally conscious architectural development firm. Their lives now orbit around the small ambivalent moon of their adorable, mysteriously troubled seven-year-old daughter, Hanna, a selective mute. Suzette imagines her own life as a Cinderella story – her adolescence indelibly marred by a spiteful, depressed, negligent mother along with the humiliation and secret shame of Crohn’s disease – before meeting Alex, a quirky, handsome Swedish American who saves her from drowning in existential despair and who remains her princely pinnacle to impress. Hanna, in turn, is far more precocious and manipulative than her age would imply, concocting escalating schemes to hurt, and even kill, her mother in order to “rescue” her beloved Daddy from “Evil Mommy’s” clutches. She is too young to understand Suzette’s vanity, fragility and misguided attempts to compensate for the inadequacies of a beleaguered childhood, but she is terrifyingly astute at probing every pocket of weakness for exploitation, despite all the protection, love and material provisions in the world.
While Baby Teeth relies on the tropes of motherly anguish, and the perennial nature vs. nurture aspects of evil, it also explores with precision and depth the tragic miscommunication that can occur even in the tight bonds of family. Children can unwittingly become projections for all the dead hopes of their parents, who persist – sometimes beyond reason – in believing that they understand a being created from their bodies but with a mind completely different from their own. The passions behind love and hate can swell with equally overwhelming force in such circumstances, and Baby Teeth mines the cracks that open when those pressures surge. As Stage writes, “it was hard to pour endless love into someone who wouldn’t love you back. No one could do it forever.” A point to debate, for sure.
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