The Road Theatre Company opens their 2016-2017 season with an imaginatively directed, beautifully acted, gorgeously designed Los Angeles Premiere of Edward Albee’s The Play About The Baby, though whether Albee’s play will speak to you or not will depend on how you feel about abandoning the realistic for the allegorical.
Albee’s best known plays (Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? and A Delicate Balance among them) represented a shift from his early theater-of-the-absurd classics A Zoo Story and The Sandbox to more traditional storytelling.
The Play About The Baby, which world-premiered in London in 1998 before its 2001 Off-Broadway debut, returned a septuagenarian Albee to his absurdist roots.
Its nameless charaters—Man (Sam Anderson) and Woman (Taylor) and Boy (Philip Orazio) and Girl (Allison Blaize)—may resemble George and Martha and Nick and Honey, but the limbo they inhabit is worlds away from Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?’s authentic college-town setting.
Indeed, an opening scene in which Girl gives birth to Baby informs us from the get-go that we are entering Albee’s version of The Twilight Zone, though the young couple’s verbal foreplay could hardly have made it past 1950s TV censors.
Boy’s recollection of a violent encounter with pair of college bullies quickly hints that not all will be sweetness and light despite the promise of new life. Meanwhile, the mysterious Man and Woman deliver extended fourth-wall-breaking monologs that may appear lighthearted but suggest darkness to come.
As Act One progresses, the older pair’s trippy soliloquys alternate with their younger counterparts’ playful sex talk (including one scene in particular that shocked New York audiences in its explicitness). Note: There is brief partial nudity and some full nudity so brief, if you shut your eyes for a few seconds, you’ll miss it.
If The Play About The Baby’s first act proves more than a bit of a head-scracther, things get only slightly clearer in a second act that turns even more théâtre de l’absurde.
If it’s not already obvious, Albee’s The Play About The Baby is not A Play For Everyone.
Fortunately, a prodigiously talented Road Theatre Company creative team make it worth checking out even for those who don’t generally go for the avant garde.
Andre Barron’s direction is the very definition of inspired, and a stunning production design aids enormously in bringing his vision to vivid life.
Sarah B. Brown’s non-literal scenic design takes flight when magically lit by Lily Bartenstein, whose imaginative projections add to an appropriately otherworldly look. Sound designer Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski enhances mood every step of the way, particularly with original music that adds a quirky air of mystery throughout. Costume designer Michèle Young and properties designer Bettina Zacar do topnotch work as well, and there’s even some choreography by Melissa Kite along the way.
Still, if there’s any reason to see the Road Theatre Company’s latest, it’s the chance to see Anderson outdo even his Best-Of-The-Year work in this past spring’s John is a father. Anderson may not actually play God in The Play About The Baby (or then again maybe he does) but his performance is as divinely, magnetically watchable as star turns get.
Gilbert is fabulous as always, and having great fun being funny and sultry and enigmatic opposite her The Other Place/Madagascar costar.
Orazio makes for a captivating Boy, giving us equal parts innocence and testosterone, and an especially powerful Blaize moves from guileless to devastating as Girl gets taken to the dark side of life.
The Play About The Baby is produced by Anna Carini, Chet Grissom, and Emma Pauly. Jacob Smith is assistant director. Maurie Gonzalez is stage manager.
Given my druthers, I’d opt for all three hours of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf over The Play About The Baby’s shorter but less penetrable two. Still, with Barron, Anderson, Gilbert and company in charge, it’s worth taking a chance on Albee’s late-in-life return to where he started.
The Road Theatre, NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. www.RoadTheatre.org
September 16, 2106
Photos: Michèle Young