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Monday, April 17, 2000
Houston, Texas
Volume 65, Issue 134

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Alley Theatre's new play is complex

By Emily Gillispie
Daily Cougar Staff

Intriguing and mesmerizing, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee's newest play, The Play About the Baby, presents an ambiguous study of the meaning of life and the perils of being young and naive.

The Play About the Baby opened in London in 1998 and now makes its U.S. debut at the Alley Theatre through May 6. 


T. Charles Erickson/Alley Theatre


The Alley Theatre's latest production The Play About The Baby features (left to right) Rebecca Harris as Girl, Marian Seldes as Woman, David Burtka as Boy and Earle Hyman as Man.

This is not your typical play. Then again, when is Albee ever "typical?" There is no timeline or real plot, just a barely landscaped set. Two glowing-white chairs rest on an otherwise blank stage. This design, by E. David Cosier, effectively focuses attention on the actors and their experiences.

In act one we meet all four characters, the first pair of which are simply called Boy and Girl. Girl, played by Rebecca Harris, is about to give birth. As she sits against the white porcelain seat she cries out matter-of-factly "I'm going to have the baby now" and runs off the set moaning and groaning. Ambiguity and confusion run rampant throughout the play. From the beginning Girl and her husband Boy appear to be a young, happily married couple with a new baby. But there is more beneath the surface.

Boy, played by chiseled, young actor David Burtka -- who can be seen in Gap ads -- is far too oblivious of his situation. He seems inexperienced, and not very worldly. When faced with conflict, he retreats to Girl and acts like a breast-feeding baby. When complimenting Girl he can only point out how much he likes to have sex with her. He is fascinated by his manhood and goes to great lengths to exaggerate it.

Enter Emmy-nominated actor Earle Hyman, who plays Man. He is a source of wisdom in the play, yet there is a vampire-like quality to his character. You know he's there for a reason, but what does he want? His character seems unrelated to the action, elevating the vaudeville style of the production.

Man enters telling stories, which seem trivial at first, but in the end take on a whole new meaning. He tells us how he didn't recognize his own mother at a party. This is when he first realized he was an "adult."

Tony award-winning actress Marian Seldes plays the flamboyant, yet corpselike Woman. She enters after Man. Boy seems slightly surprised that a woman he doesn't know is on his property, but quickly dismisses his unease and boasts to her of his mountain climbing adventures, a sort of metaphor for making love. 

Woman's stories are witty and funny, but at this point it is still unclear why she and Man are even there.

Even Boy and Girl are confused. They keep asking each other who Woman and Man are. They ultimately convince each other that they are gypsies who want to sell or eat the baby.

There are simply too many stories and twists and turns to explore. This is the beauty of Albee. Just when you think you've got it all figured out you realize you don't. Such is the case at the end of act one when Man and Woman reveal why there are really there: to take the baby.

The Play About the Baby is brilliant in many ways. First of all the cast is remarkable. At first Boy and Girl seem to be almost bad actors. Their lines are rambled, their movements almost robotic. These actions add to the production by surfacing Boy and Girl's youth and innocence.

Man and Woman's actions seem too exaggerated at times and their costumes are much more elaborate than Boy's and Girl's. This sets them apart. Their wisdom and experience are reflected in their movements and clothing.

Most importantly, though, is the message the play is trying to present. The baby seems to represent some sort of conformity and naive belief of perfection. Boy and Girl are sure that they are happy and they indeed did conceive a baby out of love. 

Man and Woman are there to remind them that youth is flawed due to lack of pain. Man and Woman remind the youths that they must hurt to know they are alive. The only way this young couple can hurt is to realize that in fact their precious baby was indeed imagined.

The themes of pain and loss, birth, death and truth and untruth pervade the very seams of the play. Albee's production leaves it up to individual interpretation as to the importance of these themes in everyday life.

The Play About the Baby runs May 6 on the large stage at the Alley Theatre. Tickets are $32-$49. Call 713-228-8421 for more information.
 

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