The Play About the Baby
Written by Edward Albee, Directed by Adrienne Boris; Producer, Louisa Richards; Production Manager, Ryan M. Kickler; Production Stage Manager, Emily DeNardo; Scenic Designer, John Traub; Lighting Designer, Ian W. King; Costume Designer, Adrienne Boris; Sound Designer, Andrew Hicks; Fight Director, Adam McLean; Assistant Stage Manager, Janie Bryant; Marketing Manager, Robyn Linden; Creative Director, Alison Naturale
CAST: Lynn R. Guerra (Girl), Zachary Eisenstat (Boy), Bob Mussett (Man), Janelle Mills (Woman)
Performances through March 31 by Exquisite Corps Theatre at Plaza Black Box Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.exquisitecorps.org
What's true and what isn't? What's real and what isn't? Without wounds, what are you? These are the core questions in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee's allegorical The Play About the Baby, Exquisite Corps Theatre's second production of the season playing through March 31st in the Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts. Directed by Adrienne Boris and featuring a cast of four stunningly good actors, the play challenges the audience to figure out the answers right along with the characters, immersing us in the world of Girl, Boy, Man, and Woman as they demolish the fourth wall. The collective audience is Albee's fifth character and the intimate Black Box Theatre is the canvas for his artistry.
Two wooden chairs placed upstage on the diagonal, a few feet apart from each other in front of a simple black background, and fluorescent light tubes on the floor framing the rectangular space are the only visible contributions of Scenic Designer John Traub and Lighting Designer Ian W. King. However, in collaboration with Sound Designer Andrew Hicks and Costume Designer Boris, they deliberately craft a void which must be filled by drawing all of our attention to the raw, instinctive performances of Lynn R. Guerra (Girl), Zachary Eisenstat (Boy), Bob Mussett (Man), and Janelle Mills (Woman) which stand out in high relief against the minimalist design elements.
Their characterizations are totally deserving of our notice. Guerra and Eisenstat exude the joy and coltishness of young lovers, the awe and pride of new parents, and the mind-numbing anguish of tragic victims. It is a pleasure to welcome back Guerra after she spent two years abroad dancing with La Campagnie Terpsichora in Cherbourg, France. Her lithe manner when moving about the stage and her posture when still are informed by her dance background, revealing the delicacy and fragility of Girl. Eisenstat inhabits Boy in so many ways, ranging from the satisfaction he gets from his own physique and showing it off for Girl, to sexualizing their conversations, to seeking comfort at her breast, and taking on the role of protector. Her display of fear and sorrow is heartbreaking; his substitution of seething rage displays the inner emotions that he cannot acknowledge.
Mussett commands the stage as a combination narrator and antagonist. He is charming in a sociopathic way, which makes him a little scary, but his delivery is very tongue-in-cheek. When he addresses the audience directly, he makes eye contact with individuals, seeming to invite replies to his rhetorical questions. He makes snide asides and rolls his eyes a lot when Woman tells her stories, but he is most menacing when explaining the facts of life to Girl and Boy or, as he refers to them, the "children." Although Man is clearly the top dog, Mills shows Woman to be undaunted, asserting herself to be heard and appreciated for her qualities. As a team, they convey confidence, experience, and a looming threat to the happiness of Girl and Boy.
The Play About the Baby is both dark and funny. Girl and Boy are innocents, blissfully unaware of the pain that life can (and will) bring. Boy has had one experience of being hurt when some other boys broke his arm on purpose, but even that seems to have perplexed, not hardened him. Man and Woman come along out of nowhere to burst their bubble, invade their paradise, and educate them in the ways of the real world. It's Albee's version of the Adam and Eve story. More than once, Man talks to the children about wounds. "Without wounds, what are you?" "If you don't have the wound of a broken heart, how can you know you're alive?" The older couple is single-minded in their zeal to drive home this lesson, employing the harshest of measures.