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
relationship. The next couple of generations have watched the
Pulitzer Prize-winning author grow thematically hostile and
elusive. Whatever the cause was for our growing disaffection for
subsequent plays, that included a production of his "Marriage
Play" (1986) that McCarter audiences got to see in 1992,
Tall Women" (1991) happily revived our latent appreciation for
this enigmatic playwright. At this juncture, any new play of his
be addressed with un-dashed hope and the anticipation that it may
prove, at the very least, accessible. "The Play About the
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 —
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
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 —
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
The Girl and Boy are, at first, undaunted and untainted by the
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
discourses and their outrageous preening posturing and posing, we
are, at least, kept mysteriously intrigued. Seldes, who has long
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
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
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
That the Man and Woman are able to spirit the baby away from the
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
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
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
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
The play’s setting: A square room in which larger than life
of baby items are displayed, including a huge and dramatically
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
a wangled teb we weave." Your guess is as good as mine. Two
— Simon Saltzman
New York. $25 to $55. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or
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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