Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the February 14,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: `The Play About Baby’

It is exactly 39 years since Edward Albee took Broadway

audiences by sturm und drang with "Who’s Afraid of Virginia

Woolf," his scalding, caustic, and celebrated play about a

destructive

relationship. The next couple of generations have watched the

three-time

Pulitzer Prize-winning author grow thematically hostile and

dramatically

elusive. Whatever the cause was for our growing disaffection for

Albee’s

subsequent plays, that included a production of his "Marriage

Play" (1986) that McCarter audiences got to see in 1992,

"Three

Tall Women" (1991) happily revived our latent appreciation for

this enigmatic playwright. At this juncture, any new play of his

should

be addressed with un-dashed hope and the anticipation that it may

prove, at the very least, accessible. "The Play About the

Baby,"

is not only accessible, it is, for the most part, entertaining. It

is not by a long shot, however, Albee’s finest hour. For that, one

must look back to "A Delicate Balance" (1966).

"Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf" is essential reading if you

want to fully enjoy "The Play About The Baby." "…Baby

essentially plays out like an abstracted riff on "…Woolf, its

four characters — an older couple and a younger couple —

debating

the existence or non-existence of a baby. To someday see both plays

performed in repertory by the same four actors would be a real

head-trip.

Albee’s device to treat the plot of "…Baby" almost as if

it was an extended vaudeville skit that purposefully goes dark and

menacing certainly keeps us glued to every symbolic clue and sardonic

word. The broad yet biting humor that propels the first half of the

play certainly succeeds in getting us off guard for what happens in

the second half.

With two of the theater’s most exhibitionism-prone performers —

Marian Seldes and Brian Murray — exemplifying the older devious

and jaded couple, and two of the most attractive (in and out of their

nudity) performers — David Burtka and Kathleen Early —

personifying

youthful innocence and innocent lust, we cannot help but be enthralled

by the nefarious interplay. The plot is deceptively simple: The Girl

(Early) goes off-stage to deliver a baby, with the help of the Boy

(Burtka), her husband. Their idyllic marriage and playfully passionate

on-stage encounters are interrupted by the appearance of Man (Murray)

and Woman (Seldes), who intrude into their perfect world without

invitation

or explanation.

The Girl and Boy are, at first, undaunted and untainted by the

up-staging

Man and Woman each of whom, in turn, engages in long narrative and

digressive stories about themselves. Both Man and Woman address us,

the audience, as they would were they in a lecture hall, although

they make no attempt to be less than preposterously self-serving.

If we are ultimately confounded and confused by their undeniably

amusing

discourses and their outrageous preening posturing and posing, we

are, at least, kept mysteriously intrigued. Seldes, who has long

perfected

the art of graceful flamboyance, has no need in this play for dramatic

restraint, as she recounts with detail (remembering her thighs as

"milk pink") former sexual dalliances. Dressed in purple to

presumably suggest her past, Seldes is, nevertheless, a prancing

flourishing

apparition of the present.

It comes as no surprise that Murray is Seldes’ equal in meticulously

self-indulged histrionics. He is no less than spell-binding as the

Man, who is mercilessly contemptuous and opinionated about what he

characterizes as the Woman’s romantic discourses and delusions

("No

one has ever spoken like that"), and increasingly demonic in his

contempt for the young couple. This, while the hopelessly in love

Girl and Boy make their occasional frolicsome "streak" across

the stage.

That the Man and Woman are able to spirit the baby away from the

unwittingly

distracted Girl and Boy is bad enough. But the horror of the end of

the first half comes when the young horrified couple question him:

"What have you done with our baby?", and he is answers

"What

baby?" The second half of the play becomes somewhat polluted with

Albee’s intensely venomous and not very subtle intimations about the

right of serpents to poison the minds of young Eden-ists. Are the

Boy and Girl deluding themselves about their happy state and the

reality

of their baby?

Are the Man and Woman reviving and reliving their own past? Or are

the Boy and Girl’s subconscious fears and knowledge of what the future

holds surfacing? Who’s coming to whose senses? Why we can presume

that Albee knows, it is for us to figure it out. So what else is new?

The play’s rather sloppy structure and its hardly profound

abstractions

make it hard for us to feel too deeply or too threatened by either

the older couple’s cynicism or by younger couples loss of innocence,

as it is here so brutally and bitterly exposed. Early and Burtka are,

none the less, captivating in their form, face and unrestrained

fondling.

The play’s setting: A square room in which larger than life

replications

of baby items are displayed, including a huge and dramatically

significant

pacifier, is the fine work of designer John Arnone. Director David

Esbjornson has been mindful to keep the play’s propensity to exalt

and embrace the inevitability of evil from becoming too distasteful.

It is, after all, only Albee’s muddled vision/version of reality,

metaphysically and metaphorically exposed. Or what is real or not

real hidden in what the Woman offers with riddle-like reflection

"What

a wangled teb we weave." Your guess is as good as mine. Two

stars.

— Simon Saltzman

The Play About The Baby, Century Center, 111 East 15

Street,

New York. $25 to $55. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or

212-239-6200 .

The key: Four stars: Don’t miss;

Three stars: You won’t feel cheated;

Two stars: Maybe you should have stayed home;

One star: Don’t blame us.


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