'Baby' spiced with humor, questions
Published: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 12:15 a.m.
The Play About the Baby
WHAT: An abstract Edward Albee play about the loss of innocence
WHERE: Hippodrome State Theatre, 25 SE 2nd Place
WHEN: Through Feb. 2. Show times: 8:15 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
TICKETS: $13-$26 for general public, $6-$15 for students
Albee's drama on stage at the Hippodrome State Theatre is drenched, sopping wet with leakage from the theatre of the absurd. It is provocative, funny, sad, and it may or may not have some deep meaning.
Although it's lighter in style and content than Samuel Beckett's "Endgame," there are moments in "Baby" when it wouldn't seem a bit odd if the trash cans in "Endgame" would empty their human contents on stage.
Directed by Lauren Caldwell, "The Play About the Baby" is played on a bare stage decorated only by scene designer Christina Gould's three off-center arches in the background.
Four characters come and go. They are known simply as Girl, Boy, Man and Woman. There is, of course, that fifth player - the baby, whose existence seems real enough as the play begins, and who, ultimately, serves as the source of pain and loss Albee inflicts upon the young couple.
In the beginning, Girl and Boy are seen running around naked, or half-naked, enjoying the idyllic bliss of their love. They have a baby.
We hear Girl howl off stage as she delivers it. We hear the baby cry. Girl nurses the baby, making sure to leave enough breast milk for Boy to suckle. All is harmonious in this garden of Eden. Innocence is bliss.
Enter Man, followed by Woman. They are a couple of older, sophisticated types dressed up in Marilyn Wall's natty designer costumes. They are witty, bold and mysterious.
With amused detachment, they observe the young couple. With wicked comic wizardry, they penetrate the couple's artlessness, pushing them into accepting a reality that is alien to them.
If Boy and Girl represent Adam and Eve, then Man and Woman are simply Albee's older, wiser (and more manipulative) editions of the couple.
The prevailing theme of "Baby" would seem to be Man's recurrent comment: "If you don't have wounds, how can you know you are alive?" The baby is not just a baby but a symbol of hope, a dream, a goal. Without suffering pain, the hope, the dream, the goal are meaningless.
All of life then is a test to determine if we can fulfill that hope. Boy and Girl are too young to have experienced pain. Man and Woman supply them with a beginning dose.
The brilliant cast makes the Hippodrome's production constantly fascinating.
David Shelton, who plays the very urban, tongue-in-cheek Man, has never appeared to better advantage on a local stage. He is very funny and, even in his cruelest moments, brings to life a vaudeville quality that cuts the anguish down to the absurd.
His counterpart, Sara Morsey as Woman, is equally funny with her stories of a love-struck artist and memories of her youthful "milk pink hips." Her new talent allowing her to sign for the deaf is pure shtick, but it's engagingly comical.
So, too, is the impromptu song and dance Woman and Man perform to "Yes Sir, That's My Baby."
Marguerite Stimpson and Niall McGinty are charming and beautiful as Girl and Boy. Their naked and half-naked frolicking never seems offensive. They are sweetly innocent, full of exuberance and totally endearing.
When the play ends with its sad reckoning, it's difficult not to feel emotionally bereft for the young twosome.
Although it may be unreasonable to expect a logical explanation of Albee's abstract "The Play About the Baby," when Boy and Girl sit alone on stage and claim they hear the baby "crying," that wound, so devoutly wished for by Albee, becomes very real. The pain is real, as well.
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