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The Play About the Baby
The company bills Andre Barron's revival of Albee's The Play About the Baby (1998) as a "rare look." True enough. A kind of spiritual cousin/companion piece to Virginia Woolf, Albee's Baby takes the playwright back into the kind of twisted psychological game-playing that is meant to be, of all things, therapeutic.
Simultaneously off-putting and dramatically challenging, the play is a fine choice for the Road as well a workable vehicle for co-artistic directors (and frequent co-stars) Sam Anderson and Taylor Gilbert to take the stage again. Barron's production is never dull. Anderson, Taylor and their fellow cast members see to that.
Where The Other Place was a showcase for Gilbert, Anderson does much of the heavy-lifting with Baby. His character — simply identified as Man — is a narrator, lesson imparter, and stealer of dreams, all wrapped up in a vaudeville-loving persona. Gilbert's Woman is Man's slightly less theatrical sidekick and partner in crime.
But is their endeavor criminal? The older couple arrives, unannounced and certainly uninvited, declaring their intention to steal a baby from a blissfully happy young couple (played by Allison Blaize and Phillip Orazio). From Man's perspective (and Albee's as well), their motives are not entirely dishonorable. Like every other character in this offbeat chamber play, the baby is nameless; we're not sure it is or ever was real.
And there's the rub. When awake, the baby is a physical embodiment of their love for each other. When it's off sleeping, Boy and Girl are chasing each other across the stage in the nude and having plenty of sex. Even before Man and Woman reveal their malevolent intentions, their very presence is an interruption, a reality check from one generation to the next.
The pain that Boy and Girl will experience comes not from the theft itself, but from the realization that follows. In this respect, Baby and Virginia Woolf really are in lock step down to the 11th hour endgame in which a character is forced to make a terrifying admission.
Until it arrives at its psychological kicker, The Play About the Baby is a kind of mad pastiche of musings and digressions, with Anderson's Man serving as ringleader. The actor, who excels at quieter, closed-off characters, does yeoman's work here as a caustic showman. Gilbert, costumed in movie star black, embraces her character's diva-ness as well as her quirky duties.
The younger players acquit themselves with equal skill. Orazio and Blaize mix the young couple's naivete with some earnest idealism. Things are supposed to be good when you are young, have the hots for each other, and have procreated. But as the game (if game it is) snakes towards its revelation, we see the care start to set in and they almost seem to lose their innocence before our very eyes.
Clearly life comes with its casualties. The wise but very dark Edward Albee knew this better than most.
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The Play About the Baby by Edward Albee
Directed by Andre Barron
Cast: Allison Blaize, Philip Orazio, Sam Anderson, Taylor Gilbert.
Scenic Design: Sarah A. Brown
Lighting and Projection Design: Lily Bartenstein
Sound Design and Original Music Composition: Joseph "Sloe" Slawinski
Costume Design: Michele Young
Stage Manager: Maurie Gonzalez
Choreographer: Elissa Kite
Plays through December 10, 2016 at the Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. (818) 761-8838, www.roadtheatre.org.
Running time: Two hours, with one intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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