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: ★★★
 

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Chicago theater openings and closings this week

show openings

Bonbs Away! Bailiwick Repertory

Boys Life Gorilla Tango Theatre

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Circle Theatre

Draft Gorilla Tango Theatre

Plaza Suite Eclipse Theatre

The Second City’s Girls Night Out Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Visionfest 2009 LiveWire Chicago Theatre

 

show closings

Bye, Bye Birdie Northwestern University Theater 

El Grito del Bronx Collaboraction 

Honest Steppenwolf Theatre

The Last Barbecue 16th Street Theater

Macbeth First Folio Theatre

The Mistress Cycle Apple Tree Theatre

Sex With Strangers Steppenwolf Theatre

The Siren Song of Stephan Jay Gould Gorilla Tango Theatre

Ski Dubai Steppenwolf Theatre

Spinning Yarns the side project

Trignity Donny’s Skybox

Tupperware: an American Musical Fable The New Colony

Viva Che Latte Donny’s Skybox

What the Weird Sisters Saw the side project

This week’s Chicago theater show openings/closings

2437303-Skyline-Chicago

show openings

The 9/11 Report La Red Music Theatre

Bikerman and the Jewish Avenger Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Bye Bye Birdie Northwestern University Theater

Ching, Chong, Chinaman Silk Road Theatre Project

Fun O’Clock: A Very Special “That’s Weird Grandma” Barrel of Monkeys

Honest Steppenwolf Theatre

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying St. Celestine Theatre

Lies and LiarsTheatre Seven of Chicago

Lorita and Other Dances Theatre Building Chicago

The Mistress Cycle Apple Tree Theatre

Sex with Strangers Steppenwolf Theatre

Six Degrees of Separation Eclipse Theatre

Ski Dubai Steppenwolf Theatre

Waiting for Godot Redtwist Theatre

 

chi-skyline-narrow

show closings

Anti-Social Darwinism and High School Musical 4: Come Hell or Heil Water Donny’s Skybox

Boleros for the Disenchanted Goodman Theatre 

Busman’s Honeymoon Lifeline Theatre

Cloclo Chicago Center for the Performing Arts

The Conduct of Life The Viaduct

Consume Gorilla Tango Theatre

A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

Death Roast Annoyance Theatre

Hedda Gabler Raven Theatre

Hitched! Donny’s Skybox

Posers Donny’s Skybox

A Song for Coretta Eclipse Theatre

Super Happy Fun Show Corn Productions

Uncle Vanya TUTA Theatre Chicago

Wanted Gorilla Tango Theatre

What We May Be Gorilla Tango Theatre

special ticket offers

$15 tickets to The Great American Nudie Spectacular! by Scratch Media at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont. TBC is offering a limited number of discount tickets for the following performances:  Friday, July 24, and Saturday, July 25, both at 10:30 p.m. The discount is available for these two performances only. Call the box office at 773-327-5252 and mention this offer.