By Patrick Hurley
Experience versus innocence is personified through playful means in Edward Albee’s allegorical The Play About the Baby, playing now at the Road Theatre.
A Boy (Philip Orazio) and a Girl (Allison Blaize) fall madly in love and start a family. A simple premise, right? The play begins in a strange ethereal Garden of Eden type existence, where a boy and a girl, and their baby are the only things that matter in the entire universe. It’s as idyllic as it is improbable. Meant to reflect the romantic youthful notions of perfect love and happiness that comes when one finds one’s suitable mate.
Enter the Man (Sam Anderson) and the Woman (Taylor Gilbert), an older couple who slowly penetrate the perfect world of the boy and girl in order to poison it with the cruel and inevitable suffering that time ultimately brings. So the allegory goes, pain and loss are unavoidable.
Unlike most of Albee’s more renowned work, this play is not naturalism. It sits somewhere in surrealism, with a dash of vaudeville. It also serves as an interesting companion piece to his classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In Woolf, the older couple George and Martha are corrupting a younger couple, with tales of a baby that doesn’t exist, in this play, the older couple are trying to convince the younger couple that they’re baby doesn’t exist. Both plays deal with experience versus innocence, the pain of reality crushing youthful illusions, and the dangerous consequences of holding on too long to such illusions.
There is a cosmic question at play here as well, Albee wants to go from the micro to the macro, expounding a universal theme of time and sorrow and how intrinsically linked the two might be. Watching innocence be corrupted and slowly turn to sorrow. Now the trick, for the director of a production of this play, is having an implicit understanding of the thematic developments that serve as the engine of the play. Language does not always move this play forward, it sometimes serves as a red herring, to distract us from the momentum that lurks beneath. There is a kind of inertia that, much in the way of Beckett, Albee quietly progresses forward. It is repetition and revision, where it seems stagnate, but if you look closely, the world is actually changing. This is meant to reflect real life. The world is always moving forward, even if we see ourselves as stuck in something that feels permanently inert, there is progression. Always progression. It has flashes of absurdism, meta-theatricality, realism, and vaudeville. How does a production stay on track?
Unfortunately, for this production, the answer is it doesn’t. Director Andre Barron keeps the play off balance for too long. It veers away from the ideas and focuses on language, and so the lengthy monologues, particularly those delivered by the Man and the Woman are difficult to track. They serve as decoration to a style and we miss the layered beauty of their themes. This goes for all of the sound and music as well. They punctuate a moment, at the sake of the bigger picture. The slide-whistle sound, for example, is cartoonish. And the music is sporadic and its attempts to manipulate really only confound. The mash-up of style in this production doesn’t quite follow the mash-up of style in the writing, and so it’s always just a little behind the play itself, and the sounds, music and lighting all feel a bit out of place because of it.
As Boy and Girl, Philip Orazio and Allison Blaize are quite good. They convey the right amount of youthful enthusiasm, which leads to painful recognition later in the play, and they’re moments early on are the clearest of the evening.
Sam Anderson, as Man, is a bit strained. It’s unclear if he’s trying to be unnatural in a stylistic sense, but he doesn’t quite appear comfortable either. Likewise, Taylor Gilbert, as Woman, never settles into the deliciousness of the role. The roles of Man and Woman are the one’s with the experience, with the suffering of life, and with the lesson to impart, and yet, there is a disconnect here, and a shifting of tactics too severe for actors to really sink their teeth in and play with. And while both actors have strengths, they’re slightly misdirected and end up with wants and needs that don’t align with the plays intent.
In the end, it seems that anyone unfamiliar with this play would be left grasping for meaning. And though the final image of the play is a provocative one, the questions that linger are greater than those that Albee posited.
The Play about the Baby
By Edward Albee
Directed by Andre Barron
September 16-November 5
The Road on Magnolia
10747 Magnolia Blvd. North Hollywood, CA. 91602