San Francisco Theater Review: THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY (Custom Made Theatre Co.)

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by Stacy Trevenon on September 19, 2012

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

LOTS OF LEVELS TO PLAY WITH

If you tend to like plays with concrete storylines, well-defined goals, and a balance of symbolism integrated into reality, you may find The Custom-Made Theatre Co.’s 14th season-opening production of Edward Albee’s The Play About the Baby a cacophony of absurdist abstracts that requires too much guesswork – one which teeters on the tedious and borders on intellectual smarminess.  If, on the other hand, you come to it with an open mind, you will appreciate Albee’s wealth of stopping-points which springboard into differing analyses, depending on the audience member. With the aid of a tightly-focused cast of four, this production evokes a new appreciation of the clicking mind behind one of America’s theatrical treasures.

Stacy Trevenon’s Stage and Cinema review of THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY at Custom Made in san FranciscoAlbee introduces us to idealistic, bubbling, and in-love young parents (Anya Kazimierski and Shane Rhoades) and their newborn baby.  Into their world enter an older, self-possessed couple (Richard Aiello and Linda Ayres-Frederick). Amid soliloquies, monologues, and ruminations on various aspects of life, the older couple calmly announce their intention to steal the baby.  When they do, they deflect the young parents’ hysteria with maddeningly deliberate mind games.  They rip away the parents’ grounded sense of reality and force them into a new mindset of how unpredictable and unsafe the world is – as if this information is a gift dutifully passed to the next generation, demanding to be negotiated. “If you don’t have wounds, how do you know you’re alive?” say the older couple, smugly but with a sense of inevitability.

Stacy Trevenon’s Stage and Cinema review of THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY at Custom Made in san FranciscoIt is a challenge to negotiate Albee’s kaleidoscope of words and imagery, and pulling order out of it may at first seem useless.  But to go with the flow, appreciate the stage spectacle, and see what Albee has in store is to experience an unusual theatrical event, one which thrusts the audience into a labyrinth of possible interpretations:  Just what is the “correct” interpretation of the baby, which is never seen but only implied in a rumpled blanket?  Is it a real baby or a personification of the innocence of the young, ripped away by time and reality? Are the older couple actually the kids in middle age, come back to lead them into adulthood?  This is why Albee is associated with Theatre of the Absurd, a mind-warping universe in which the hunt for meaning may just prove to be meaningless.

Stacy Trevenon’s Stage and Cinema review of THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY at Custom Made in san FranciscoThe young mother is played with a lovely sincerity by Anya Kazimierski.  Shane Rhoades has a fierce and convincing intensity as the distraught and bewildered young father, bordering on the violent at appropriate moments.  Richard Aiello and Linda Ayres-Frederick turn in smooth performances as the older couple, with a veneer of stylization that gets a little in the way of emotional intimacy but comes across as perfectly appropriate for the characters.  Aiello very nicely walks the line between personable and vaguely frightening as he toys with the young parents – if real parents they are.

Stacy Trevenon’s Stage and Cinema review of THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY at Custom Made in san FranciscoThe tiny theater enhances the story’s claustrophobic nature, and Brian Katz’s sparse but effective direction keeps the story rolling along on track.  Likewise Sarah Phykitt’s set, little more than a rug and chairs, which do not get in the way as the story unfolds; the rear wall is decked in an eye-catching assembly of chairs hung in neat rows, another symbolic device to ponder.  Maxx Kurzunski’s simple costumes streamline and define the characters, and it’s a nice touch to have the young couple barefoot throughout, calling to mind a pair of innocents in a modern-day garden of Eden before their innocence is lost.

More cautions – if nudity that comes close to gratuitous (though effective at the same time) puts you off as a viewer, this may not be the play for you.  Ditto if you like stage experiences that are neatly spelled out.  But this is Albee at his literary height – and it’s worth the mental spelunking on the part of the spectator to get the most out of it.

photos by Jay Yamada

The Play About the Baby
The Custom Made Theatre Co. at the Gough Street Playhouse in San Francisco
scheduled to end on October 14, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.custommade.org/tickets

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