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
itself in its very title. But that is only one of many jokes Albee plays
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
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
envious of the young couple's youth and innocence. As if to underscore
jealousy, Albee has the 20somethings frolic naked across the stage,
older couple is unfazed. They're up to something.
By the end of the first act the older folks are threatening to steal
baby, which may or may not exist. The younger couple is horrified but
submit to the power of the elders or else jeopardize the life of their
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
Martha torture each other with a nasty game involving a fictional child.
In "A Delicate Balance," he had mysterious forces—possibly
a frightened couple out of their home, and in his most recent Broadway
"The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?" he uses bestiality to explore
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
forget—the purpose of love, the solidity of truth, the meaning
This analysis may be too straightforward for a play that somehow manages
incorporate descriptions of mountain climbing as a sensual act, stories
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
are left with invention—re-invention,'' is the oft-repeated mangled
Shakespeare: "Oh, what a wangled teb we weave." From poetry
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
something eventually. Then Act 2 takes a downward spiral express that
to a blurry gray purgatory—not unlike the one set designer Ariel
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
more seriously emotional, and they do, with admirable conviction.
James' older gentlemen provides the evening's most unsettling moments.
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,
a force unto herself and renders any play secondary to her mere presence
stage, played the older woman.
Where Seldes was still, Mulholland is frantic, antic and filled with
energy. She's great fun to watch as she skitters about the stage in
flashy black cocktail dress.
Give Shotgun major credit for making such an admirable attempt at "The
About the Baby." But in the end, it's hard to make heads or tails
play...it's all loose change really, and easily spent.