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A FASCINATING PRODUCTION OF OF EDWARD ALBEE’S “THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY”

An Interesting Production of Edward Albee’s “The Play About the Baby”

The last time I saw this Edward Albee play was at Century Center in New York in 2001 with Marian Seldes and Brian Murray.  The young couple was played by Kathleen Early and David Burtka (who is now married to Neil Patrick Harris).  This is really one of Albee’s “minor” plays but still interesting to watch.  It’s an absurdist play and probably ranks with “Zoo Story” or “The Sand Box”.  It’s definitely “Albee-esque” .  The Albee drama has a lot going for its two hour production since it plays with malice, realism pitted against illusion, morbid events, character whose impetuses are never really explained but whose words are brilliantly playful.

Custom Made Theatre who always comes with inventive productions is presenting a stimulating production of the “The Play About the Baby”.  What’s it about you might will ask. Charlie Rose in a 2001 interview asks Albee that question.  His answer was “It is about two hours”.  In that same interview Rose asked “What’s the idea of the play” to which Albee replied “I don’t know”.   I can go a little further. Comparisons to Albee’s <i>Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” naturally spring to mind about if the young couple had a baby or not.

We first meet the young couple at the beginning of the first act played energetically by Shane Rhoades and Anya Kazimierski.  They are identified only as Boy and Girl.  She who looks pregnant tells the audience who sit on three sides of the intimate stage “I’m going to have the baby now”.  Suddenly she is no longer with child and you hear a baby crying off stage.   This couple certainly loves sex as they bounce about the stage full naked and even have some stimulated sex play with crude dialogue. (We’re truly in love. I always have a hard on” or to the girl “I love being on you—in you”). We do find out that this is part of Albee’s strategy.

However after all of the sexual romping of these young people in come the arrival of Man and Woman played beautifully by Richard Aiello and Linda Ayres-Frederick.  These two are dressed to the nines with a good looking double breasted suit and she looking very stylish in her outfit with black lace stockings.   They  are very urbane whereas the young boy and girl are childish.  The young boy and girl world has now by invaded by the bizarrely vaudevillian Man and Woman. The baby mysteriously disappears and the Boy and Girl do whatever they can to find or even believe that they had a baby. Their innocence is exposed away as the Man and Woman force feed the younger couple their fruit idea of realism. There are some critics who believe that Man and Woman are Boy and Girl grown up.

Director Brian Katz production is surreal, riotous, troubling, intimate and heartbreaking. However that said Albee can get a little confusing with his clouding of theatricality, absurdist and reality however very interesting.  This is the kind of theatre for the thinking man and it does keep you on your toes.  The cast deeply respects Albee with Shane Rhoades playing the Boy with ferociously yet very infantile in his manner.  Anya Kazimierski matches his susceptibility with soft-spoken sympathy.  Both give stylish performances.

Richard Aiello and Linda Ayes –Frederick are charismatic as Man and Woman. They are hilarious yet sort of terrifying.  They play throughout the show like a well-tuned vaudeville couple, acting as if their encounters with the young people just another song and dance song and dance team. She tells the audience when we first meet her that she is a bit theatrical with no apologies there and none is needed since her playful comic instincts, her mobile sense of language, her chic baring and her outsized theatricality is excellent.  Richard Aiello theatrical voice and bearing are extraordinary. He gives a dazzling performance that could overwhelm the production were it not being matched and check by the wise ministrations of his performance.

Director Brian Katz suffuses the cast with high energy to keep the thoughts moving throughout the story with a speediness and passion in his simply stage production.  Set design by Sarah Phykitt is very thought-provoking with a wall of chairs from floor to ceiling on the back wall.  This is a must for Albee fans and a pleasing outing for anyone who enjoys thinking person’s drama.

Edward Albee’s “The Play About  the Baby”  plays through October 7 at Custom Made Theatre, 1620 Gough Street, San Francisco. For tickets go to www.ticketurtle.com or call 415-798-2682 for more information.  Up next for Custom Made will be Tracy Letts “Superior Donuts” opening on November 2nd.

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