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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Review: Rubicon Theatre’s “Becoming Ingrid”

A Charming Tale of Transformation

 April Pletcher and Meg Harkins photo by Rory Tanksley

Rubicon Theatre Project presents:

Becoming Ingrid

Written by Liza Lentini
Directed by Jamie Stires
Thru December 5th (ticket info)

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Although Rubicon Theatre Project’s production, Becoming Ingrid, has all the makings for a psychotic stage version of “Single White Female,” spoiler alert: no one gets a stiletto in his eye.

Becoming Ingrid Meg Harkin and April Taylor photo by Bridget SchultzLead character Christine is unhappy and bored with her life. She reads a book and becomes infatuated with Ingrid, the author. Finding out that the real-life Ingrid (April Taylor) is actually teaching a writing course in Scotland, Christine moves to Scotland, determined to become a writer as well.  This obsession with Ingrid leads to her renting the adjacent apartment, collecting her discarded paper scraps, cutting off her hair, and enrolling in Ingrid’s class.

Meg Harkins, playing Christine, narrates Becoming Ingrid as if she is writing a story. Painstakingly choosing the right words throughout the play, Christine unknowingly transforms herself from damsel-in-distress to protagonist. Playwright Liza Lentini has crafted just the right words to make Becoming Ingrid a charming tale of transformation.

Delivering an energetic, enthusiastic performance. Harkins pulls off the delicate balance between idolizer and psycho. Christine leaves the dance floor to hunt down Ingrid in the ladies’ room to give her a handmade Christmas present. It sounds creepy, but the way Harkins does it with big-eyed nervousness, it’s ultimately sweet. Transformation continues to take main stage as actors take on dual roles. Billy Fenderson plays a sophisticated English artist and an obnoxious loud-mouthed Scottish student. Within moments of taking off her sweater, Heidi Katz goes from the bent over gregarious Scottish landlady to the uptight professor. Jessica Thigpen rounds out the trifecta transformation by switching between a Scottish student and a French artist. Kudos to dialect coach Lindsay Barlett for conversion direction.

Heidi Katz, Meg Harkins and Jeff Taylor photo by Rory Tanksley Jeff Taylor, April Pletcher and Bill Fenderson photo by Rory Tanksley
Meg Harkins and Jeff Taylor photo by Rory Tanksley Meg Harkins photo by Rory Tanksley

Becoming Ingrid has a running time of two hours with a ten minute intermission. In 22certain spots, the activity on stage drags ever so slightly. To continue its transformation, director Jamie Stires could tighten up the scenes. Any lasting makeover requires additional moments of cinching it. Katie Schweiger has adorned the set with books and page-covered walls. These are reminders that Becoming Ingrid is the well-written tale of a wannabe writer’s obsession with a successful writer. Because of that, there is a certain amount of pressure to end a review with just the right crafted words to convey meaning: Go see it, and become a fan of the talents of small Chicago theatre companies.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

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Chicago theater openings/closings this week

buckingham-fountain-at-night

show openings

 

1985 The Factory Theater 

All the Fame of Lofty Deeds The House Theatre of Chicago 

Becoming Ingrid Rubicon Theatre Project

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

Cooperstown Theatre Seven of Chicago

The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live!…From Space (David Bowie’s 1977 Christmas Special Network Edit) New Millenium Theatre

Democracy Eclipse Theatre

G.I.F.T. Collaboraction Theatre

Little Women Circle Theatre

Macbeth Dominican University Performing Arts Center

MassNorthwestern University 

Plaid Tidings Noble Fool Theatricals

Spanish Strings McAninch Arts Center

Stars in the Morning Sky UIC Theatre

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant A Red Orchid Theatre

 

CHICAGO_HOLIDAYS

show closings

 

As You Like It Loyola University

The Black Duckling Dream Theatre 

Book of Days EverGreen Theatre Ensemble 

C’est La Vie Light Opera Works 

Dinner for Six Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Fantasticks Porchlight Music Theatre 

Fedra: Queen of Haiti Lookingglass Theatre 

Graceland Profiles Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Pump Boys and Dinettes Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Spoon River Anthology Saint Sebastian Players

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Treasure Island Lifeline Theatre

Two by Pinter Piven Theatre Workshop