The Play About the Baby, Edward Albee's first new play in New York City since the Pulitzer Prize-winning Three Tall Women, takes its first Off-Broadway steps Jan. 16 at the Century Center for the Performing Arts, with an opening planned for Feb. 1. Stars Brian Murray and Marian Seldes, in the roles of Man and Woman, are joined by David Burtka and Kathleen Early. David Esbjornson, former artistic director of Off-Broadway's Classic Stage Company, directs.
Seldes reprises her role as Woman, a part she played in the U.S. debut of Baby at Houston's Alley Theatre. A Tony winner for Albee's Delicate Balance, Seldes was nominated for a 1999 Tony Award for her work in Ring Round the Moon, in which she replaced an ailing Irene Worth as Madame Desmermortes. A Theatre Hall of Fame inductee in 1996, Seldes' New York credits include Three Tall Women, The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, Father's Day, Equus, Deathtrap and Ivanov.
Murray most recently appeared on Broadway as Serebryakov in the Roundabout Theatre's Uncle Vanya. The always-busy actor spent much of last year traveling with the then Broadway bound revival of Finian's Rainbow, starring as Finian. Had that musical survived, it would have been his eighth appearance on Broadway, a career which includes his Drama Desk Award-winning turn in Noises Off and his Tony Award nominated role in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Before Baby, Seldes and Murray headed a New England brood in the world premiere of Theresa Rebeck's The Butterfly Collection, opening the new season of Playwrights Horizons in Manhattan.
Burtka played Boy in the U.S. premiere of The Play About the Baby. Other credits include New York's Beautiful Thing, Bad Boy Johnny and La Bella Luna, as well as a stint on the road in Beauty and the Beast. Kathleen Early plays Girl. Her credits include American Globe Theatre's recent Hamlet.
Although Baby was rumored to be a sequel to Albee's most revered work, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, where an imaginary son is discussed, the four-character play is not a continuation of that storyline. Instead, it tells of a young couple who appear to have just had a child, only to find that illusion challenged by the arrival of an older man and woman. The old couple, possibly incarnations of God or the devil, but described as real people and representing a real threat, take away the young couple's child and, with it, steal their innocence.
Along the way there are repeat references to Gypsies (historically blamed for stealing children), "wangled tebs we weave," middle-aged painters and young handsome suitors, nudity, blood and salacious references to the jungle and the mountains. Plus a lot of laughs, in the wicked, biting Albee vein.
While Seldes finds Baby "hilarious," she sees the final message as something very serious and dark, as the young couple hears a baby crying, even after they've convinced themselves their own child never existed. As Seldes told Playbill On-Line back in May, 2000, the play is about "the horrors of cruelty, the horrors of innocence being attacked. At the end of the play, there is a tremendous sadness. I feel rather guilty. My instinct is to weep with them."
The Play About the Baby made its world premiere in September 1998 in London and has subsequently changed, both in the writing, and in the set design (the original concept of a Victorian apartment altered to a sterile no-man's-land with only two white chairs and a white bench). Albee is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Delicate Balance, Seascape and Three Tall Women, as well as the short works The Zoo Story and The American Dream. Albee has also completed a new work, The Goat, or, Who is Silvia?, about a man who apparently falls in love with a goat, and hopes to stage The Lorca Play, based on the life of Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca, in Dec. Off-Broadway.
— By Christine Ehren