The Play About The Baby
Who's afraid of the big, bad grown-ups?
(taken from a review by Margaret Spillane)

"When I saw Marian Seldes [in The Play About the Baby], she
made me realize what it means to be on stage. That feeling
of communication is what pulled me from working with two-
dimensional visual arts into the world of the theater."
~ Gale Harold [Brian Kinney, Queer As Folk]

The Play About the Baby concerns a young couple who have just had a baby, and the strange turn of events that transpires when they are visited by an older man and woman who persuade them that they don't have one. It is cruelly hilarious, yet insightfully so. Can you imagine a play so blazingly well written and so splendidly acted that two body-perfect twentysomethings can romp naked amidst the props like wood sprites, yet it's the other people on stage -- a fully-clothed seventy-something couple -- that you can't take your eyes off of? Not only does that well-dressed elder couple take endless delight in hilariously tormenting the sweet young things, they enjoy taking pokes at the audience, too.

Brian Murray, Marian Seldes, Kathleen Early, David Burtka
Photo credit: Carol Rosegg

The Play About the Baby opens with that handsome young couple -- barefoot and lightly dressed -- sitting in a pastel nursery amidst giant-sized alphabet blocks and a monument-sized pacifier, with a rocking horse and a pram suspended dreamlike above their heads. The two are known only as The Girl (Kathleen Early) and The Boy (David Burtka). The Girl goes offstage briefly to give birth, and quick as a wink she's flashing a self-congratulatory grin and carrying the newborn in a blanket. Delighted with their achievement and treating parenthood as just one more no-problem perk, the two resume their life of romping naked around the nursery, tickling and teasing and nuzzling each other like two puppies. It's the self-absorption of the naive young who think the older folks made marriage and child-rearing look like such boring toil. The Girl licks The Boy's armpit, he suckles at her breast, they chase each other and giggle. These young playmates believe they have reinvented the world in their own likeness: Everything works out just fine for them, and so effortlessly.

Then the fun begins. Into the midst of the Boy and Girl's narcissistic idyll stroll The Man (Brian Murrray) and The Woman (Marion Seldes). Dressed with a comfortable upper-class elegance that matches the casual grace of their voices and gestures, this sophisticated older couple might be the grandparents, but their relationship to the perky young family turns out to be far more mysterious. What The Man and The Woman clearly ARE are charming, witty, intelligent storytellers. Their winning nonchalance implies a kind of power -- an understanding of how the world works -- that unnerves The Boy and The Girl, who seem crowded out of their happy little nursery by these mature raconteurs. The elders take immense pleasure in frightening and punishing the naive young narcissists, but do so with a bag of tricks dipped into so deftly that they can cause this consternation without ever breaking a sweat or raising their voices.

This is why The Play About The Baby is so much fun. Turning the tables on the American myth of youth's blaze always trouncing age's steadiness, Albee gives all the really rollicking fun to the elders. Without losing a bit of her aristocratic bearing, The Woman recounts a hilariously rich and detailed narrative of her own youthful sexuality -- which scares the kids, and outrages The Man. It's the audience who gets it on the knuckles from The Man: Just before the second act begins, he berates audience members as they dawdle back: "Hurry in! You don't want to miss the exposition!" As he goes on to tell a few tales of his own, The Man is upstaged by The Woman, who accompanies his narrative with a simultaneous translation into a sign language of her own invention, a hilarious semaphore of arm flutters and finger flourishes. These handsome elders suffuse the stage with a bracing sexuality that show up the kids' lapping and pawing titillations for the sandbox antics they are. The Man and The Woman have done what they've come for: to spoil the fun of the young, to leave the smartass Girl and Boy looking anxious and uncertain. And we have a ball watching the older folks do it.

Director David Esbjornson splendidly conducts this three-ring circus of non-sequitur storytelling, harebrained comic challenges, and hilarious psychic mayhem, filling the stage with a cold, diamond-brilliant luminosity that feels like a straight shot of truth. He allows Marian Seldes and Brian Murray the space and pace to be funnier than any other actors on any other New York stage.

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