Like many other working women, actress Brynn O’Malley sometimes struggles to balance professional and family life, especially when her employers are less than accommodating. When she arrived at Signature Theatre in July to begin rehearsing for the musical “Sunday in the Park With George,” she requested housing for herself and an infant.
“Signature Theatre provided us with company housing as a family, but not a crib,” O’Malley said. “It’s still a major point of contention between me and the company manager. But we found a drawer.”
As she says this, she smiles, eyes wide and glowing. Resting beside her on a couch in the theater lobby is a life-size doll. He is Twan Baker, short for Antoine, so named because O’Malley first carried him while playing the Baker’s wife in a production of “Into the Woods” at the Pittsburgh CLO. Actor and writer Hunter Foster played the Baker. When the production was over, they asked the prop shop for permission to keep Twan, and they’ve been sharing custody ever since.
“We don’t refer to him as a doll; we refer to him as our son,” Foster said, speaking by phone from New York, where he lives with his wife, actress Jennifer Cody. She is Twan’s aunt, not a stepmother, in a sprawling family tree that also includes Tony winners Kelli O’Hara and Gary Beach and playwright Moises Kaufman.
“It’s pretty crazy, how many amazing actors have held that child and how many more will,” O’Malley said. “If you’ve worked with Twan, you are considered to be an aunt or an uncle, and you can take custody — if he’s not being used by Hunter or Jenn or I in something else.”
“Aunt Lauren” Kennedy did just that when she appeared with Twan in a 2012 production of “Into the Woods” at Baltimore’s CenterStage. She and a co-star even created a day-in-the-life-of Twan photo gallery for Playbill online. A “social-media mogul,” Twan also has his own Facebook page and Twitter feed and occasionally gets his bio in theater programs. He has performed in two Broadway shows and at regional theaters in eight states.
When they first held Twan during that Pittsburgh production of “Into the Woods,” O’Malley and Foster both noted that he was a healthy weight, although they disagree on the exact poundage: Foster says 20 pounds; O’Malley says it’s more like five. His weight is centered in his lower abdomen, as with a real infant, and that makes him much easier to cradle convincingly.
“Almost every single musical has a baby in it,” O’Malley said. “If you are playing a part like Dot in ‘Sunday in the Park,’ you spend a lot of time playing very important scenes holding a baby that [is] supposed to be very meaningful to your character. It started to make us all really appreciate a well-made prop baby.”
Twan’s first show after Pittsburgh was a production of “All Shook Up” at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. Foster and Cody kept custody of him that summer and started posting silly pictures of Twan doing things such as sipping wine on an Adirondack chair. That fall, O’Malley played the Baker’s wife at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.
“In rehearsals, they handed me a prop baby and it was awful,” she says. It was like a CPR baby that smelled like rotten baby powder. I was like, ‘This baby sucks, and I have to hold it — and smell it — for [the] whole show.’ ”
She had Foster and Cody send her Twan, and that’s when he began to rack up credits. In 2012, after the Baltimore “Into the Woods,” O’Malley was cast to play Grace Farrell in the Broadway revival of “Annie.” While in rehearsal for a streetscape scene, she watched an ensemble member bundle some blankets and go whirling across the stage.
O’Malley immediately texted Foster: “There’s a baby! There’s a baby! We can get Twan on Broadway!”
Nervously, she asked the prop master for permission to put Twan in the show. He said sure — it would save him a day’s work. Twan remained in “Annie” until it closed in January, and fortuitously, Foster was set to use Twan in “Bridges of Madison County.” Tech rehearsals were set to begin the day after “Annie” closed. Then came the great Twan kidnapping.
“There was supposed to be a seamless transition, one props person to another,” Foster said. “But Twan was packed up and sent to a warehouse in Brooklyn or Queens or somewhere. It took a special-forces operation — there was a whole team of people from both shows — to get Twan back.”
But they did, thanks in part to Cody sending out Amber Alerts on Twitter. Foster was then disappointed that Bartlett Sher, who directed “Bridges,” didn’t give Twan more notes.
“Bart was a little unsure of Twan’s talent,” Foster said. “He pretty much ignored Twan, but that is how Twan likes to work. He is a Method actor.”
“Bridges” closed in May. Once again, the timing worked out for Twan to transition to his next role. O’Malley asked Signature director Matt Gardiner if Twan could please play her character’s baby, Marie, the swaddled child depicted in the George Seurat painting that inspired Stephen Sondheim’s musical.
Gardiner said yes because, in O’Malley’s words, “Twan’s reputation had preceded him.” The baby’s next audition is for Tony Danza, who will be appearing opposite O’Malley when she stars in the new musical “Honeymoon in Vegas,” which is set to open on Broadway early next year.
“There is a baby featured in the second act of the show, and I’m pretty confident that Twan is going to get the part.” O’Malley said. “If Tony Danza knows what’s good for him.”
Ritzel is a freelance writer.