REVIEW: The Play About the Baby (BackStage Theatre)

BackStage gets sexy, absurd

 

 
BackStage Theatre presents
 
The Play About the Baby
 
by Edward Albee
directed by
Matthew Reeder
at
Chopin Studio Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through May 8th (more info)

reviewed by Barry Eitel

Longevity seems to be a difficult goal for many great American playwrights. Not that their works can’t endure for years to come, which is why they’re great. However, many of them struggle with churning out great plays over the entire span of their career. Quite a few start off white hot, but lose their streak as the years wear on. Arthur Miller won his first Tony in his thirties for All My Sons, but ended his career with the mediocre Finishing the Picture after years of other mediocre plays. Tennessee Williams  also witnessed the success of The Glass Menagerie in his thirties, but didn’t see much success in the last thirty years of his life.

Edward Albee, however, apparently has escaped this curse. He started his career with the brilliant Zoo Story in 1958 and won the Tony Award in 2003 for his brilliant The Goat, or Who is Silvia? He still has his duds (I’m looking at you, Sandbox) but he has definitely aged well and is still kicking out revisions and new works. The Play About the Baby is one of his later plays (1998). It captures the refreshing absurdism that put Albee on the map, even though it was written after most other absurdists were dead. Not often produced, it’s a treat that BackStage Theatre is mounting the rarely seen play, even though it has its bumps.

The play is indeed about a baby, but also about reality, perception, loss of innocence—pretty mature stuff. It starts with a Boy and Girl (Patrick De Nicola and Kate Cares, respectively), living their blissful lives in a blinding white Eden-like setting. They are blessed with a baby, youth, and unquenchable sex drives. Their world is invaded by the bizarrely vaudevillian Man and Woman (Michael Paces and Karen Yates ). The baby mysteriously disappears, and Boy and Girl do whatever they can to find it (or possibly, believe in it again?). Innocence is stripped away. A double-headed snake, the Man and Woman force-feed the younger couple the fruit of knowledge.

Matthew Reeder’s production is surreal, hilarious, disturbing, intimate, and heartbreaking. He doesn’t try to cram a concept onto Albee, but presents the script as written. Some have suggested theories like Man and Woman are Boy and Girl grown up, but you won’t find any hint of that here. As whacky as it is, Reeder’s interpretation of the play is straightforward. This was the smart choice, but unfortunately Albee can get a little confusing, with his blurring of theatricality, absurdism, and reality. The second act, for example, is pretty much the first act chopped up and repeated. Everything gets a little muddled towards the end; it can be hard to keep up.

The cast deeply respects Albee. De Nicola is vicious yet infantile; Cares matches his vulnerability with soft-spoken empathy and a (occasionally disturbing) motherly quality. Paces and Yates are charismatic, funny, and sort of terrifying. Their extended direct addresses can slip into Open Mic Night stand-up territory, but overall they keep the ship afloat and the audience entertained.

This is only the second production of The Play About the Baby in the city since the Chicago premier in 2003. That isn’t too surprising—Albee doesn’t stake out a clear narrative, there’s full-frontal nudity…even the fact that no character has an actual name is kind of scary. Reeder and BackStage bravely stage this tough script, though, and the cast never backs down from Albee’s challenges. Next season sees a flurry of Albee (both newer and older, but all of it is genius), and BackStage’s The Play About the Baby is a deliciously absurd first course.

 
Rating: ★★★
 


Cast & Crew

 

Matthew Reeder, Director

Matthew Reeder is the Artistic Director of BackStage Theatre Company.  He most recently directed Wallace Shawn’s Aunt Dan & Lemon. Other Selected Directing Credits include:  On An Average Day, How I Learned to Drive, BackStage Theatre Company; A Streetcar named Desire, Metropolis Performing Arts Center; Accomplice, Noble Fool Theatricals; A Tempest, Playing French Festival at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre; The Shakespeare Stealer, Adventure Stage Chicago; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Metropolis Performing Arts Center; The Glass Menagerie, Illinois Repertory Theatre; Still Life With Iris, Adventure Stage Chicago; To Kill a Mockingbird, Metropolis Performing Arts Center; The Woman in Black, Blue Ridge Theatre Festival; Sure Thing/English Made Simple, Sibiu International Theatre Festival . Matthew also makes occasional appearances onstage as an actor. Most recently: Don’t Dress for Dinner, Metropolis Performing Arts Center; Roasting Chestnuts 03-04, Noble Fool Theatricals; Pacific Overtures, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre; Early and Often, Famous Door Theatre Company.

Eric Paskey, Assistant Director

Eric Paskey has been an ensemble member with BackStage since 2006. He is a graduate of Kent State University and the ImprovOlympic training center. Credits with BSTC include Denise Druczwski’s Inferno (Phil Ligras), The Skin of Our Teeth (Telegraph Boy), Medea (Son), The Ruling Class (Dinsdale), and Aunt Dan and Lemon (Andy). Eric has also had the pleasure of working with the National Theatre for Children, Collaboraction, Signal Ensemble Theatre, Dramatis Personae, Rubicon Theater Project, Halcyon Theatre, Arts/Lanes, and New Leaf Theatre. He is a devoted fan of Cleveland’s professional sports teams and a pitcher for the Second City and iO softball teams. Little known fact: as a child, Eric had “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” completely memorized!

Lindsey Miller, Stage Manager

Lindsey Miller became BackStage’s newest Ensemble member in May 2009. She has stage managed BackStage’s On An Average Day, The Memory of Water, Waiting for Lefty, and Bloody Bess: A Tale of Piracy and Revenge. Other Chicago credits include The Bay at Nice (Vitalist Theatre), Stone Cold Dead Serious (Circle Theater; Jeff Nominated). Lindsey has also worked with Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, The Road Company, and CLIMB Theatre.

Kate Cares, The Girl

Kate Cares is incredibly excited to be making her debut with Backstage Theatre Company. She has had the pleasure to work with many theatre companies in and around Chicago including Remy Bumppo Theatre, Next Theatre, Circle Theatre, Greasy Joan and Co, and Open Eye Productions. Kate holds a BFA in Acting from The Theatre School at Depaul and has studied with Anne Bogart and the SITI Company.

 

Patrick De Nicola, The Boy

Patrick De Nicola is thrilled to be working with Backstage Theatre Company for the first time since moving to Chicago a year ago. His other Chicago credits include: Point of Contention Theatre’s Chaos Festival, Collaboraction’s Sketchbook 9, and Henry/Paul in The Gift Theatre’s production of The Ruby Sunrise, a role he will be remounting this July when The Ruby Sunrise opens at Chicago’s Theatre on the Lake. Patrick is a founding member of the comedy troupe Shoelace Academy in which he has written and performed, Variety Shmariety: A Sketch Show at Second City’s Donny’s Skybox Theatre and The Greatest Porno Ever: A Sketch Show at Gorilla Tango Theatre. Love and thanks to his family, Backstage, his Shoelacers, his wonderful friends, and Gray Talent Inc. Patrick is a graduate of Emerson College (Boston, MA) with a BFA in Acting and a BA in Film.

Michael Pacas, The Man

Michael Pacas is currently performing in BackStage Theatre’s production of Edward Albee’s, THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY. He recently appeared in City Lit’s MACBETH, directed by Susan Hart. Last season, performed the roles of Musgove in Griffin Theatre’s THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM; Mr. Peachum in The Hypocrites’ THE THREEPENNY OPERA and John Barrymore in William Luce’s tour-de-force, BARRYMORE (which he also directed and produced). A BackStage Theatre ensemble member, Michael played leading roles in their productions of THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH and TERRA NOVA. He also directed their production of MEDEA, in which he incorporated American Sign Language. He appeared in CORPUS CHRISTI (Ulysses/Bailiwick), which received a Joseph Jefferson Citation and an After Dark Award for Ensemble. Other acting credits include productions with Lifeline Theatre; Irish Repertory; Circle and Signal Ensemble Theatre. Michael gives special thanks to Tim and his extended family including the Cult of Susan and Jeffrey. Visit http://pacas.ws for additional information on his theatrical activities. Later this summer, Michael will be attending the Eight Annual International Cabaret Conference at Yale University: an invitation only intensive nine-day teaching program in the art of cabaret performance and trains professionals for the live entertainment industry.

Karen Yates, The Woman

Karen Yates was last seen at BackStage playing the title role in Medea. Recently, she was seen at the Lyric Opera performing non-singing roles in Faust and Damnation of Faust. Prior she played Ouisa in Six Degrees of Separation at Eclipse Theatre. She has worked at Writers’ Theatre: To the Green Fields Beyond (Jeff nominations for Ensemble and Director) and The Price—went on as Esther (Jeff awards for Best Play and Director—David Cromer). She has also worked with Piccolo Theatre, Oak Park Festival Theatre, Next Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, European Repertory, among others. She is also a director, and has worked with Chicago Opera Vanguard, TUTA, Stage Left, Actors Revolution Theater, Piccolo, Overdog, WTA, Chopin, and Around the Coyote Fest either as a director or assistant director.

Heath Hays, Scenic Designer

Heath Hays is a BackStage Ensemble member, where he has designed set for On An Average Day, The Memory of Water, Beauty on the Vine, Bloody Bess and Zombies from the Beyond as well as the Jeff-recommended shows Waiting for Lefty and Medea.  He also designed sound for BackStage’s The Ruling Class and Seanachi Theatre‘s drama Whistle in the Dark. He designed set for Infamous Commonwealth Theatre‘s Keely and Du, GreyZelda’s Jeff-recommended production of A View From The Bridge as well as their Desire Under the Elms, and Hell in a Handbag‘s Caged Dames. Heath has also worked for Grounded Theatre, Arena Dinner Theatre, and Village Players Theatre.

 

Kerensa Peterson, Dramaturg

Kerensa Peterson, BFA in Dramatic Arts from Emporia State University and MFA in Acting from the University of Florida, is thrilled to be an Ensemble member of BackStage Theatre Company.  She has been seen in BackStage’s productions of Medea and TheRuling Class. She is also a member of the Laboratory for the Development of Substitute Materials. Two of her favorite roles include Amanda in Glass Menagerie with the New World Repertory Theatre, and Agnes Eggling in A Bright Room Called Day with Speaking Ring Theatre Company. She has been a writer, performer, movement coach and/or director with Chicago Fusion Theatre, Theatre-Hikes, Halcyon Theatre, The Side Project, Chicago Danztheatre, the Neo-futurists, Pintig Cultural Group and the Chicago production of Gutenberg! The Musical. Proud to be a lifelong arts educator, she teaches acting, voice and movement, and has worked as a media educator for Facets Multimedia, Inc.

Yousif Mohamed – Lighting Designer

Joe Court – Sound Designer

Megan Frei – Costume Designer/Production Manager

Heath Hays – Scenic Designer

3 Responses

  1. Hey, Barry.

    Read your comment about Arthur Miller above. While I’m no Arthur Miller expert, one of his later plays–a satire called Resurrection Blues–is on now at Eclipse Theatre’s stomping ground, the Greenhouse Theatre. I’ve read reviews by other critics about the play and I could not disagree more vehemently with those who only “somewhat recommend” it.

    Resurrection Blues will resonate the most with audiences who are spirituality geeks like me, people who, like the character Stanley, have tried a lot of different faiths only to find them wanting or people who, like the character Schulz, have read a lot of religious commentary on Christianity and Judaism and wonder if the whole thing isn’t made up. Miller includes all this in his play and nails the types who are attracted to it–as well as the more devious and materialistic sorts who just want to make money off of it.

    Resurrection Blues is a cunning, multilayered satire that might go over a lot of people’s heads, especially if they have no interest in the above subjects and don’t care to be intellectually challenged. It really is a great, late Arthur Miller play that deserves people’s attention.

  2. Hey Paige–

    Resurrection Blues definitely sounds like a late Miller highlight, but let us not forget this is the period in his career where he also wrote Creation of the World and Other Business. I’m not saying him nor Tennessee wrote nothing good later in life, but that most of their best work comes from a few years of their early career. Contrast that with Albee, who produced Virginia Woolf in 1962, Seascape in 1975, and The Goat in 2002.

  3. I agree with Paige, Barry. You’re too hard on the later Miller. The Price – an excellent play – was Tony nominated in 1968; Broken Glass in 1994; and The Ride Down Mt Morgan in 2000, when he was 85. You’re may disagree with the Tony nominators but at least you ought to have mentioned the nominations.

    The monotonous regularity with which subscription-based theaters choose early Miller may be more a sign of uninspired programming than of the plays’ superior quality. Perhaps those later plays await actors and directors capable of revealing hitherto unseen splendors in Miller’s late work.

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