Playwright: Edward Albee
At: Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn
Phone: (312) 443-5151; $15-$30
Runs through: Nov. 2
Oddly enough, while watching Edward Albee's absurdist The Play About the Baby, I thought of a famous Mark Twain quote: 'Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.' That quote jibes perfectly with one attributed to the playwright: 'If you intellectualize and examine the creative process too carefully it can evaporate and vanish.' Both of these quotes arise because, ever since its premiere in New York in January of 2001, critics and audiences alike have been searching for the meaning behind Albee's work, which is paradoxically confounding, illuminating, and charged with emotion, even as we attempt to decipher what the playwright wants us to feel.
The Play About the Baby, part of the Goodman's season-long examination of one of America's most notable dramatic scribes, is easy to synopsize. Boy and Girl have just given birth to a baby. Boy and Girl are in love, but realize they may not know each other all that well. Still, the sexual charge and limerance that is the purview of young romance is there in heady abundance. This idyll cannot last for long. Hence, the arrival of man and woman, an older, mysterious jaded couple that seems vaguely sinister, proffering a metaphorical apple of knowledge. Why have they arrived? To take the baby. Or perhaps, to put it more explicitly, to convince the young couple that their baby never existed.
Albee has long trafficked in the worlds of absurdism and existentialism, those twins of theater that also mark the work of Pinter, Ianesco, and Beckett. In accordance with these philosophies, Albee presents a distorted, non-realistic view of everyday life, examined under the theory of existentialism that human life, really, has no purpose. The Play About the Baby, moreso than Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, enmeshes itself in these philosophies.
At the heart of The Play About the Baby is one word: wounds. The Man asks, 'How can you know you're alive without wounds?' And perhaps, at the risk of being overanalytical, what Albee is trying to do with this piece is show how maturity and age (in the form of the Man and the Woman) wound us, intruding upon our innocence and squashing it. Eventually, the only way we can apply a balm to the horror of lost innocence is to adopt a kind of denial. One of the characters also says, 'Reality is determined by our need.' Thus, when what seems to be a very real infant vanishes, the only way to move on is by denying that it ever existed.
Director Pam MacKinnon has staged the production with an elegant spareness that leaves room for us to ruminate on Albee's themes. The set design (by Todd Rosenthal) is almost bare, consisting of two chairs, a polished raked stage, and a huge bright green baby carriage hanging above the set. MacKinnon has elicited strong performances from her ensemble. Julie Granata and Scott Antonucci are appropriately innocent, bringing real humanity and confusion to roles that are, in essence, metaphorical. But it's Linda Kimbrough and Matt DeCaro who really steal the show, with their wickedly perverse and funny Man and Woman. They create characters that are fascinatingly at odds: we want to love them even as they repulse us. They're evil clowns, eerie.
The Play About the Baby is a rarity: a play that leaves you thinking long after the lights have dimmed and you go home to question what's real.