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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper

A Play About the Baby

Or: A Little Stranger

I will come forth right now and saw I have no love in my heart for Edward Albee. All I have seen of his work gives evidence of a smug, conceited mind luxuriating in the audacity of vulgarity and lugging itself through the theater of the absurd not for love of the art form but for shock it brings. Ziesel, the director, and his four actors have managed to build a castle upon the mire: a moving, chilling, and funny performance out of the strange nursery where the past is tended and the nightmare of the future hatches.

We file into soft, white, mobiléd world of Boy and Girl (Ryan Duncan and Anna Baryshnikov). They are utterly, completely and sickeningly happy, romping, rutting and cooing over the newest member of their household, their unseen newborn. Filing in with us are Man and Woman (Scott Wolf and Abby Pajakowski), two strange and blithely bitter creatures, brimful with stories and bits of useful information, and that air of menace that not even the purest of martyrs can compete against. They have come for one purpose: to break the happy life of Boy and Girl, give them wounds, give them heartbreak, and they intend to begin by taking the child.

The play is less of a hostage stand off than it is a series of peculiar stories, told by man and woman to the audience, with dramatic interlude. There are a thousand ways for it to be overshot or underdone, or otherwise mishandled. But all four performers have really lashed themselves to the bark and really believe in this peculiar world. The youngsters are truly the tender hearted young mutton-heads: acting in exact heart strong way you would expect of those too young to know disappointment and too beautiful to know hardship. Duncan’s the very model of the cocksure man, puffing up his chest to a threat or cooing over his dam. Baryshinkov does a superb job of distilling the anxiety inherent to motherhood to trembling lip and shaking leg, adding sheets of reason to armor her performance. They really are a lovely pair and that makes their suffering, their crucifixion shall we say, so much more perversely delightful.

Because it is delightful, and delicious, this suffering of theres. For however much we like these younglings we dance to Man and Woman’s tune. This smiling pair, quarreling and quizzing each other in the middle of their passion play, for all their craziness and peculiarity, make us love them. Even as instruments of pain, we love them for being expert storytellers. Wolf, always smiling, stalks up and down resembling nothing more like Ledger’s Joker, charmingly villainous and there for villainously charming. Pajakowski is less hair raising, but equally engaging, perfectly in control of her thoughts (it’s a wonder to see her make use of a simple “Ah” a word so commonly tossed aside but that, twixt the right lips, can tell volumes) and her occasional bursts into long, multi-character dramas. They take Albee’s rambling remembrances and tripping asides and make gifts of them, they give them to YOU. Oh there might be a dozen people compassed in the sweep of their gaze but when they are talking and telling and confiding in YOU. Even before the intermission I recognized the audience, and myself with them, were eating out the hands of these too, yearning just as fervently for them to smash this nursery world. That is power, that’s acting: not what you yourself can project, but what you can kindle in your audience.

Ziesel has chosen his birds well and choreographed them expertly, finding or clawing out chapters in the play for us to climb with. He also gives delivers the action right into the audiences lap, to ensure that we are a part of this world, not just observing it. With his happy crew he steers this ponderous vessel through the cockles of our hearts, distributing chills and shaking us with cannon bursts of mirth.

Warning: Contains Nudity

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