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Emilie Baartman plays Kia with dizzying mix of ditz and empathic savant


Emilie Baartman plays the part of Kia in New Phoenix Theatre’s production of Deborah Laufer’s dark comedy The Last Schwartz. In her capable hands, the character is a dizzying mix of ditz and empathic savant cloaked in a dichotomy of innocence and raw sexual magnetism that would make Norma Jean Mortensen sit up and take notice.

Baartman has a knack for comedy. It would be easy to play Kia as an obtuse and oblivious sex kitten. But Emilie plays up Kia’s empathetic nature and keen ability to hone in on what’s motivating the Schwartz siblings’ family antics. This infuses Kia with a nuance and dimension that provides room for the audience to see her as giving and kindhearted, not merely a vacuous hedonist in the tradition of Kandi from Two and Half Men. Rather, there is a lot of Schitt’s Creek’s Alexis Jones on display in Kia, although Baartman really loves that her character has never met a boundary she wouldn’t cross or disrespect.

“Kia’s a people person,” notes Emilie. “She picks up on what underlies other people’s emotions. Because she was raised by so many different people, she definitely has the ability of picking up on different emotions and the empathy of knowing why they feel the way they do. Even though she has absolutely no filter, she does pick up on how people are reacting and listening to each other because she has been surrounded by that her entire life.”

Baartman admires Laufer’s focus on family and expresses confidence that audiences will too.

“Every audience member will find a character, or some aspect of each character, that they can relate to.”

And while the playwright, being Jewish, bases the story on a Jewish family contending with tradition, religion and who gets what in the aftermath of the last parent’s death, the story could just as easily be told from the perspective of a Catholic or Lutheran, Italian or Irish or Muslim or Cuban family. The concepts are universal.

Emilie hopes people come see the show. While there are non-stop laughs, there’s a lot more going on in Deborah Laufer’s well-crafted script.

“The crazy action you see unfolding on stage happens every single day in families everywhere,” Baartman shrugs. “It’s like an everyday sort of thing.”

And, of course, it’s so much easier to laugh out loud at the craziness on stage than it is to laugh at oneself. But you can’t help but notice the similarities.

“It’s so realistic because it’s the everyday sort of thing that happen … a lot.”

February 20, 2023.


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