By Edward Albee
Directed by Kaarin Fairfax
With Brett Cousins, Daniel Frederiksen, Laura Gordon, Kat Stewart and Ben Anderson
Set by Danielle Brustman
Lighting by Nick Merrylees
The Play About the Baby (October 30 – November 24, 2002)- Helen Thompson, The Age 05-Nov-02
Edward Albee’s most famous play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, was written in 1962 and filmed in 1966. Since then he has written many award-winning plays, including last year’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, which will be staged by the Melbourne Theatre Company next year.
Another of his recent works is The Play About the Baby, a 2001 Pulitzer Prize nominee. Red Stitch is continuing its practice of bringing new American drama to our attention with this production, directed by Kaarin Fairfax, who also directed the enormously successful Uncle Bob earlier this year.
The Play About the Baby has the Albee trademark absurdist style. It’s a very funny but black satire on innocence and experience. The four characters are perfectly recognisable, but are also just exaggerated enough to make them representative types, and to set them up for a fall.
Albee’s stage life is most definitely not real life, and part of the pleasure of Baby is its deliberate exploitation of the audience/actor relationship. He almost dares us, at our peril, to take him seriously. He certainly leaves us, and his characters, finally balanced on the edge of real tragedy – or perhaps it is only farce after all.
Brett Cousins and Laura Gordon play the very young couple whose happiness is completed with the arrival of a baby. They are like a pair of children, simple and happy. The other two characters (all are nameless) are the antithesis of this innocence.
The male character works the audience like a pro, putting every cheap rhetorical trick into practice. His female companion is a hyperactive, self-promoting type who is totally absorbed in the drama of her own life.
Albee takes both couples just over the edge of believability, and they exist in a social vacuum. In the first act we are given due warning that things are unlikely to turn out well.
The older man warns us that happy endings represent a kind of death – that you need to be wounded to know you are alive. His cynicism is complete; he even tells us that we can’t take glory because it shows us the abyss.
Yet it is the determined cheerfulness of the older pair that makes their stalking of the younger ones particularly sinister.
They certainly blast the happiness of the young parents, baffling their attempts to discover why, with language play and ridicule. They are like beings from another planet come to teach a lesson before proceeding on their way. The casting ensures each pair is physically alike.
Cousins and Gordon are blonde, slow speakers, almost babyish themselves, while Kat Stewart and Daniel Frederiksen, as the older pair, are slim, dark and devilishly fluent. Frederiksen does a nice line in cynicism, while Kat Stewart is hilariously histrionic. Gordon and Cousins, on the other hand, create real emotion with some intense acting that serves to complicate our response.
This is another fine production from Red Stitch. Intriguing and challenging.