Edward Albee’s “The Play About the Baby” is not really about a baby. What is it about, then?
That’s very much open to interpretation. Or, as one of the play’s characters states, “What’s true and what isn’t is a tricky business, no? What’s real and what isn’t? Tricky. Do you follow? Yes? No? Good. Whichever.”
The 1998 absurdist drama — which is very funny at times — is currently being presented by the Black Box Performing Arts Center in Englewood. With direction by Matt Okin (the theater’s artistic director) and a minimal set, the four-member cast embraces the play’s black humor and random craziness so deeply you can feel their gleeful delight.
Albee gives the characters long-winded, digressive stories to tell, and has one of them break the fourth wall frequently. The tone of the writing ranges from crass to philosophical, the dialogue can be either flowery or monosyllabic, and there is lots of wordplay. What results is a wild ride that may confuse you, as you watch it, but will likely make more sense to you — and may even strike you as profound — when you think about it, afterwards.
I’ve got my own theory about what it all means, but don’t want to share it, because (1) there is no way to do that without ruining the play’s surprises and (2) other interpretations may be just as valid. I will say, though, that I think it is helpful to think of the baby as a symbol, and not just a baby. (And if you do that, perhaps it really does become a play about a baby.)
The four characters are identified in the program only as Girl, Boy, Woman and Man. Girl (Ilana Schimmel) and Boy (Jeremy Niles) are introduced first. She is pregnant and about to give birth, though she and the Boy project such a sense of wide-eyed, almost uncomprehending innocence that they seem like little more than children themselves.
Man (Michael Gardiner) and Woman (Danielle MacMath) soon replace them on the stage. The tuxedo-clad Man seems like a fast-talking con man; the glamorously attired Woman likes to talk about her past, often in a pretentious, self-important way.
They aren’t necessary a romantic couple. It’s more like they’re on a mission together.
They meet the more plainly attired Girl and Boy, who are puzzled by their presence.
“You have a baby,” says the Woman. “What kind?”
“A small one?” the Boy responds, as if asking a question himself.
The Boy asks what they want.
“I would imagine,” the Man says, “we want what almost everybody wants — eternal life, in great health, no older than we are when we want it; easy money, with enough self-deception to make us feel we’ve earned it (and) are worthy people; a government that lets us do whatever we want, serves our private interests and makes us feel we’re doing all we can for — how do they call it? — the less fortunate …”
The Boy then specifies that he wants to know what they want, here and now. “We’ve come to take the baby,” the Man announces.
At the end of Act 1, they do just that, to the Girl and the Boy’s horror. Act 2 basically deals with the aftermath, and — after many more digressions — the resolution.
I found myself trying out several different theories along the way. Are the Man and the Woman supposed to represent gods toying with mere mortals who are represented by the Boy and the Girl? Are they older versions of the Boy and the Girl?
Or are they creative writers, and the Boy and the Girl are the characters in the story they dream up?
Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Or maybe Albee had something entirely different in mind.
The Black Box Performing Arts Center in Englewood presents “The Play About the Baby” through Dec. 4. Visit blackboxpac.com.
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