Review: Dark nights with The Play About the Baby

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By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  January 26, 2011

ACTING AGILITY Jordan William and Julia Reddy stick together.
On the weeknights when The Goat is off and Lucid Stage would otherwise be dark, Mad Horse is doubling everyone's Albee pleasure, if that's quite the right word for what this master playwright's work evinces. Monday through Wednesday brings us not a little Freudian horror in The Play About the Baby, directed by guest artist William Steele, as the current offering of Mad Horse's Dark Night Series — though with all this Albee, it's pretty dark the whole week long.

The basic plot elements of The Play include a sweet young couple; an older, worldlier, inexplicably menacing couple; and a child about whose existence there's a whole lot of anxiety and weirdness. Does that sound like any other Albee shows we know? But Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? actually opened more than three decades before the looser but still compelling The Play, where the focus is on the younger couple rather than the older: The fresh-faced, innocently libidinous Boy (Jordan William) and Girl (Julia Reddy) have a baby, have lots of sex, and then have some problems with a disturbingly affable and omniscient older Man (Chris Newcomb) and Woman (Julie George Carlson), who break the fourth wall as well as the unities of the young folks' own living room and personal histories.

All this happens with the sort of stop-and-start, savvy, allusion- and profanity-laden dialogue that makes Albee so damn scintillating even as he serves up some pretty strange and/or sinister stuff. The Man, for example, delivers a great colloquial monologue recalling having held in hand the golden genitals of the Bull of Florence whilst pretending to be blind, and then — while he's still pantomiming the genital-holding — wonders aloud how much the Boy and Girl love their baby. "I think we should find out," he smiles.

I would say that about sets the tone for The Play, which is gamely and agilely acted by this ensemble. Reddy, who braves much of the show with not much or nothing on in a very chilly theater, plays Albee's simple, rather simply written Girl with a formidable intelligence that's fascinating to watch. Jordan, with his golden, guileless looks, is well-cast, and does a good job conveying the Boy's childlike vulnerabilities, though I'd like to see a little more horror in him as things degenerate.

Newcomb and Carlson and are beautifully at ease with the Man's and Woman's conversational patter, though they could sometimes use a somewhat lighter, swifter touch with Albee's myriad asides. They also struggle a bit to sustain the couple's menace over time, though that's in large part the fault of a script that is perhaps a little too recursive. But they particularly deserve praise for achieving that particular tenor of geniality that veers into the macabre.

And so, while it's not exactly pleasant to be regaled which two of Albee's works in the same run, it is certainly bracing and provocative, and this dual run at Mad Horse is a double dose I most assuredly recommend.

THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY | by Edward Albee | Directed by William Steele | Produced by Mad Horse Theatre Company's Dark Night Series | at Lucid Stage, in Portland | through February 2 | 207.899.3993

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