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Review by Chad Jones for Oakland Tribune

Albee's absurdist `Play About the Baby' goes from inspired to infantile

2 1/2 Stars

Baby? What Baby? And why are these people naked?

Edward Albee's 1999 work "The Play About the Baby" seems to describe
itself in its very title. But that is only one of many jokes Albee plays on
his audience in this entertaining tangle of absurdist theater.
There is no baby. Or is there?

That ambivalence is the essence of "The Play," which has its West Coast
premiere under the auspices of the Shotgun Players at LaVal's Subterranean
Theatre in Berkeley.

The play begins with the birth of a baby to a handsome young couple (Katie
McMahon and Brent Rosenbabum). The new parents beam with pride and then
lunge at each other with lust in their eyes.

Then we meet an older couple—Trish Mulholland and Richard Louis James—
envious of the young couple's youth and innocence. As if to underscore the
jealousy, Albee has the 20somethings frolic naked across the stage, but the
older couple is unfazed. They're up to something.

By the end of the first act the older folks are threatening to steal the
baby, which may or may not exist. The younger couple is horrified but must
submit to the power of the elders or else jeopardize the life of their baby.
They did have a baby, right?

Albee, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, has trampled through audacious
oddity before. In "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" he had George and
Martha torture each other with a nasty game involving a fictional child.
In "A Delicate Balance," he had mysterious forces—possibly death?—push
a frightened couple out of their home, and in his most recent Broadway hit,
"The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?" he uses bestiality to explore extremes in
sexual betrayal.

The point of this "Baby"' play—if there is one—seems to be that age,
cynicism, power and so-called wisdom can make us forget the most profound
truths. By the end of the play, the older couple has pretty much convinced
the younger couple that their baby was an illusion. If the young parents,
these erotic frolickers through the Garden of Eden, could be brainwashed
into believing their child never existed, then think of what else they could
forget—the purpose of love, the solidity of truth, the meaning of life.
This analysis may be too straightforward for a play that somehow manages to
incorporate descriptions of mountain climbing as a sensual act, stories of
driving lovers to suicide, an irrational fear of gypsies, the use of
American Sign Language and the Queen of Spain into a two-hour comedy
masquerading as philosophical drama.

Mixed in with pithy observations like, "It all fades, all dissolves and we
are left with invention—re-invention,'' is the oft-repeated mangled
Shakespeare: "Oh, what a wangled teb we weave." From poetry to gibberish—
it's a fine line and Albee just tramps on through, obscuring every possible

Director Reid Davis, though he doesn't exactly crack the code, certainly
manages to deliver a bright, cheery, slightly creepy "Baby." The first act
especially offers energetic nonsense that feels as if it will add up to
something eventually. Then Act 2 takes a downward spiral express that leads
to a blurry gray purgatory—not unlike the one set designer Ariel Parkinson
has created on the tiny LaVal's stage.

As the younger couple, McMahon and Rosenbaum are sweetly earnest and
carefree in their nudity. As the play gets sillier, they are expected to get
more seriously emotional, and they do, with admirable conviction.

James' older gentlemen provides the evening's most unsettling moments. He
charms and then snaps. He's smart and mean, eloquent and bitter. Ultimately,
the character makes no sense, but that doesn't seem to worry James.

Mulholland gets the play's showiest role. In New York, Marian Seldes, who is
a force unto herself and renders any play secondary to her mere presence on
stage, played the older woman.

Where Seldes was still, Mulholland is frantic, antic and filled with comic
energy. She's great fun to watch as she skitters about the stage in her
flashy black cocktail dress.

Give Shotgun major credit for making such an admirable attempt at "The Play
About the Baby." But in the end, it's hard to make heads or tails of this's all loose change really, and easily spent.


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