by Pat Craig for Contra Costa Times
Posted on Thu, Nov. 28, 200
Albee returns to the absurd in grand fashion
It would seem, at first blush, anyway, that Edward Albee, in the twilight
of his career, is returning to his roots with "The Play About the
Baby." Certainly, the show, which received its West Coast premiere
Monday by Berkeley's Shotgun Players, is firmly in the theater-of-the-absurd
camp, alongside Albee's earliest works such as "The Zoo Story"
and "The Sandbox."
But since it is a play about a baby, anyone watching it must look at
Albee's history as an adopted baby, and his continuing theme of the
mysterious child (as found in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"
and "Three Sisters," for example), to add a bit more intrigue
to the playing of the author's mind.
Here, we get the boy and the girl (Katie McMahon and Brent Rosenbaum),
innocents in a bizarre sort of Eden, enjoying their newborn baby almost
as much as they do each other, until the man and woman (familiar Center
Rep face Richard Louis James and Trish Mulholland) show up and turn
their world upside down.
The man and woman, jaded upper-class sorts, with a bit of Beelzebub
tossed into the mix, come onto the idyllic scene of sweetness, love
and youthful passion, to basically run roughshod over the youngsters'
dreams, and raise serious doubts in their minds about everything from
their love for each other to the very existence of the baby.
It isn't particularly hard to draw a whole lot of abandoned-child allusions
from the script.
But more fascinating, though, is to look at this as Albee's return
to full-tilt theater of the absurd, where you essentially fasten your
safety belt and take a wild ride through Mr. Albee's garden of earthly
delights and horrors. It isn't supposed to make sense or follow any
sort of literary path. It is simply a peek into the author's tortured
imagination as it guides you along this encounter between youth and
innocence and old age and embittered guile.
At times, the show seems a bit overblown -- you get the impression,
especially in the first act, that Albee is just showing off with literary
overindulgence and theatrical excess, by simply letting thoughts and
ideas roll from his imagination unfettered by such things as sense and
But, as usual, there is a method to Albee's theatrical magic, and the
play becomes quite satisfying and hard-hitting as it moves into the
seriousness of the second act (still, don't go expecting a linear story
and a plot that makes sense down to a well-wrought conclusion, this
is still a theater-of-the-absurd piece, and the author leaves plenty
of loose ends and images for continued late-night discussion). But with
that, by the end, the show does have plenty of theatrical weight.
The Shotgun production is theater at its most basic. Played in the
tiny basement theater at La Val's Pizza in Berkeley (complete with scraping
chair and dishwasher noises from above), there is little high-tech about
the presentation. The set, designed by Ariel Parkinson, has a cavelike
feeling to it -- right down to the drawings on the wall, which seem
to represent a primitive look at humanity and a bit of early Christianity.
It is staged very simply by director Reid Davis, who infuses the cast
with high energy to keep the thoughts firing throughout the story with
a rapidity and intensity.
And for those who are interested in such things for one reason or another,
there is a decent amount of nudity, both male and female, especially
in the first act.
The performances are superb all around. James and Mulholland play through
the show like a well-tuned vaudeville couple, acting as if their encounter
with the young people is just another song and dance. McMahon and Rosenbaum,
on the other hand, are delightfully apple-cheeked, and completely flummoxed
when the going gets rough.
This is a must for Albee fans, and a pleasing outing for anyone who
enjoys theater. And beyond that, it was a real coup for the tiny Shotgun
company to win the West Coast premiere rights.
Pat Craig is the Times theater critic.
He can be reached at 925-945-4736 or at email@example.com.
Review can be seen online in the theatre listings here: