On the night that playwright Edward Albee died, September 16, 2016, I attended the opening of one of his rarely performed plays, “The Play About the Baby,” at The Road on Magnolia in North Hollywood. It starred one of my favorite actors, Sam Anderson, and after the show I told him how wonderful his performance was, but confessed that the show was so abstruse that I frequently couldn’t understand what was going on.
“Neither could I,” he responded with a grin.
He was kidding, of course, as his impeccable performance had already proven.
Anderson, who is the artistic director of The Road Theatre Company, plays The Man opposite co-artistic director and company founder Taylor Gilbert’s equally exquisite Woman. The two are joined by Philip Orazio (The Boy) and The Girl (Allison Blaize), a newly married couple so besotted with each other that they spend the first act making love all over their apartment and chasing each other, naked, up and down the hallway. “You are my destination,” he tells her.
They pause in the middle of all their frenetic activity as she goes into labor and he delivers their first child, called only “The Baby” and never identified by its sex.
Returning to their bedroom (offstage) to continue their love-making, they are unaware of The Man who suddenly arrives in the living room and begins talking to himself and to the audience.
Assuming a theatrical variety of gestures and voices ranging from soft and informative to angry growls interspersed with mocking laughter, The Man deliberates and expresses his opinions on a number of subjects. These include musings on the nature of reality and truth and such aphorisms as “Nobody dies from not being remembered. From being forgotten, maybe…”
At some point The Woman enters and begins a rambling, self-indulgent monologue about her aspirations when she was young. She and The Man have obviously been together for a long time, but it’s unclear whether they are married or not. (At one point she asks him if he has children and he tells her he has six: “two white, two black, one green, and I forget what the other one is.”)
“Have you ever noticed,” she says, “that when you’re upset you say everything twice?”
When The Boy and Girl finally return to the living room they are startled to see the older couple there. Earlier, The Boy and Girl had had a conversation about Gypsies and she confessed that she is afraid of them because she believes they steal babies “either to sell them or to eat them.”
The older couple, after affably engaging them in small talk, suddenly reveal that they have come to take the baby. The young couple, in anguish, discuss the pain such a theft would give them, and The Man mocks them because they have no visible scars or other injuries on their bodies.
“Without wounds, how do you know you’re alive?” he asks.
Finally, The Boy screams, “What have you done with the baby?”
And as the curtain falls to end the first act, The Man and The Woman respond in unison, “What baby?”
During the intermission The Man comes out to continue his conversation with the audience. He talks of eternal life, of what should be instead of what is, of who we are and who we cannot be, and notes that “It all could just stop, go away. It’s troubling, all this.”
When the second act begins, The Woman begins once again to talk about her youth. “I was young and fabulous,” she says as she strikes a series of poses that she apparently thinks are sexy and tells tales about one of her lovers. The Man listens with amusement and then turns to the audience to ask, “Do you believe any of this?”
As the older couple talks, they sprinkle bits and pieces of The Boy and Girl’s earlier conversation into their own conversation and even refer to activities and opinions that the younger couple had had in the past.
It was here that the play became foggier than ever for me. I wondered if the young couple was an earlier version of the old couple. I wondered if the old couple were existential doppelgangers of the feared Gypsies. I wondered if listening to Donald Trump’s rants for all these months had finally turned me into an idiot.
And the ending was even more mystifying. It was absurdist and Beckett-ish. But the versatility and strength of the actors’ performances combined with Andre Barron’s expert direction made “The Play About the Baby” an extraordinary experience and a strangely satisfying evening at the theater.
Edward Albee’s “The Play About the Baby” will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through November 5th at The Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood. For tickets call 818-761-8838 or visit www.roadtheatre.org on line.
By Cynthia Citron