I am sorry to report back that last night was another example of a really solid cast in what I consider an unworthy script: Albee's The Play About the Baby. Now most critics consider this a black comedy or more precisely a black, absurdist comedy, minor but still intriguing. I basically feel this is a case where they can't bring themselves to say that the Emperor has no clothes. I think Albee has written a pretentious, post-modern wank-fest that is only a pale shadow of his other plays, particularly Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. There isn't a single moment where the perfectly reasonable questions of "Who are you?", "What are you doing here?"* and "What have you done with the baby?" are answered directly. I suppose the last one is answered indirectly. (SPOILERS coming.) But there is no motivation established, and instead the older man keeps going off on a variety of tangents whenever asked a direct question. Some of these aside are amusing (or at least amused the majority of the audience, though I found them too self-indulgent and theatrical), but they are certainly evasive. I suppose this is the same sort of thing that he and Pinter have done for years, but I just didn't think that the dialogue is interesting enough to carry the evening (again, at least not for me -- many people in the audience enjoyed it).
SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
Since the role of the older couple is never explained, my mind tries to impose meaning on the vacuum. The most likely explanation is that these are mental projections of the young couple as much older and wiser people, which only partially explains why the older man says that the young man touched him in the groin (as he would obviously have done if the two are the same person), but then this no longer makes sense when the older man says that he was in the hospital giving birth (rather than the young woman). It just fails to cohere in any way that makes sense, and when things don't cohere, I have absolutely no interest in them. Again, trying to impose some sense on this, I generally came around to the idea that the woman either had a miscarriage or lost the baby very early due to SIDS, and then this play is them coming around to accepting trauma in the Now (rather than Later when they are older and more used to pain, as the young man tries to bargain at several points). And yet, if this is so, why is the older man so gratuitously cruel to his younger self?
The whole thing was treated like a joke by the older man, who also breaks the fourth wall quite frequently. At one point he says he has six children: two Black, two white, one green and one is not described. Then he says he had the Black children when he was Black. Then he catches himself and says that he had one Black child, two white ones and a light green one (which he gave birth to incidentally). What is one supposed to do with such ramblings, aside from turn the older man into a trickster character like Coyote or even Loki, who is a more malevolent trickster? It just means that nothing we see is real and can be inverted or reversed at any moment. I have no interest in plays that refuse to have ground rules, and it is very rare indeed that I like absurdist plays.
There are definitely interesting moments along the way, and I'll touch
on just a few, although for me the destination wasn't worth it. In one of his monologues designed to distract attention from what is going on (and now that I think about it, it is quite pointless that the older couple spend a lot of time talking to the audience without the younger couple around and yet they do...), the older man talks about going into the Royal Academy Museum in London and experiencing a sculpture exhibit for the blind by closing his eyes tight and having a guide show him to the pieces.
The older woman talks a bit about trying to interview creative types and not getting very far, particularly when a writer says he would rather die than let her watch him write (or as she puts it, translate his ideas into words). She gets really quite indignant about this rejection, but of course why should she have any right to impose upon the artist, particularly when she seems to want something from him in exchange for nothing? (I assume this was Albee's dig at a bunch of reporters who must have always been pestering him about his craft.) Just coincidentally, I read a follow up piece on this comic/performance artist who is trying to goad Jason Segel into responding to his videos where he eats Segel's photo every day. He sounds like a total knob when he complains that he is being ignored and assumes that he has a right to make his name off of Segel. I mean he has a bit of fame already, but the more he complains, the more he comes across as an entitled jerk. (This is one of the rare cases where I wish The Star had comments turned on, since I thought they would be illuminating, though there are comments here at an earlier point in this guy's quest for fame.) I guess Albee helpfully(?) points out that entitled jerks were around 20+ years ago, even if there do seem to be more of them today in the era of social media.
I'm sure I started the evening in the wrong frame of mind, wanting to be proved wrong that this play was not worth my time, but, despite fine acting, I still felt it was a waste of my time. I can't judge whether others would feel the same. Most people in the audience did seem to be digging the play, more engaged in the discursions than I was.
* While it is sort of hinted at, I don't think the younger couple ever asks "How did you get in?," but I may have just overlooked that. The fact that the older couple can apparently just sort of walk through walls just adds to the unreality of the play and the fact it has no ground rules.