An Absurdist Look at Love and Loss in “The Play About The Baby”
You know, you don’t often come across many Edward Albee plays being produced around these parts, perhaps due in part to how far the seminal playwright often veers into absurdism. Actually, you don’t come across much absurdism, period, for pretty understandable reasons. Theatre is hard enough to sell to audiences these days when it doesn’t threaten to be inscrutable—and yet when the genre is done well, as it is in Albee’s The Play About the Baby, there’s a sense in which it can get at ideas stored on a deeper level of the psyche than a traditional play, or imply something entirely unique in its obliqueness.
Only on view at the Lake Worth Playhouse’s Stonzek Theatre for the rest of this weekend, this particular play puts forth the idea of a couple whose seemingly obvious offspring is later implied to have never existed, and in doing so, seems to tangle with a set of complex questions about the mysteries of human attraction and the pervasiveness of loss. What happens, more or less, is this: a young, much in love couple, designated only Boy and Girl, are about to have a child. Girl delivers said baby, to the delight of both, and they continue in their mutually enamored bliss until an older couple called Man and Woman enter the picture.
Whereas Girl and Boy are all innocence and exuberance, Man and Woman are the picture of suave sophistication-cunning and wise to the world’s oft cruel ways. They conspire to steal the younger couple’s baby, commit the act, and then go even further by trying to convince the couple they’d never had a child at all!
Though that’s about all that happens, it’s by no way all that’s going on: there’s also the fact that the atmosphere is suffused with sexuality, and there’s an implied malleability to identity as the older version of the characters try to claim they lived the experiences the younger ones previously described, evoking a sense in which the fear the Boy and the Girl feel of the Man and Woman may in fact be a fear of their own future selves.
The Man also speaks about prior lives in which he was a variety of other colors, from black to white to green, though he is not sure which of these experiences came before which, and time also seems to be up for question given that it is proposed possible that the Boy may have married the Girl before he met her rather than the other way around.
Some have noted the parallels between this play and the better-known Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, which also deals with a child who isn’t quite a child, considering the play Albee’s absurdist take on the more straightforward work. But in being less beholden to a conventional narrative, this play has the benefit of being able to go on many more interesting and poetic diversions than a play more strictly beholden to a conventional logic.
Though I occasionally struggled somewhat to feel engaged in moments when those tangents drifted too far into inscrutability, there’s enough more obviously interpretable backstory I never found myself totally lost, and enough emotional grounding that I could connect to the characters, such as through the Boy and Girl’s relationship and his romantic description of somehow knowing that she was his preordained “destination.” And there were also plenty of other moments where a seemingly random anecdote ended on an astoundingly profound note. If you can’t always see a linear way in which these diversions seem to fit together into a whole, you can at least intuitively sense the way in which they were meant to strike certain corresponding chords.
And while I’m still not sure to what degree I actually enjoyed the play rather than simply appreciated it, it hits the ultimately satisfying mark it does thanks in no small part to the impressive charisma of the actors director Daniel Eiola leads in conveying Albee’s work. Jacqueline Muro and Ken Vianale, who play the show’s older characters, nail what seems to be Albee’s intentions of making both personalities delightfully theatrical, part of a meta-aspect that also informs and deepens the script.
Daniel Powers gets a few nice moments as the dim-witted Boy, and the expressive Julia Avery as Girl gets to close the show on a stunning moment of pure grief. Whatever is uncertain about The Play About The Baby or what it’s meant to imply, the powerfulness of this performance evokes a sense of loss that feels entirely genuine. It’s an intensity that might wound, but as the Man puts it—wounds are part of what remind us we’re alive. So if you don’t mind leaving a play with a few lingering questions you may find yourself pondering long after you leave the theatre, feel free to catch this production before it closes up on this February 5th!