In iTheatre's The Play About the Baby at Herberger, Tours de Force Abound, As Other Valley Troupes Pack It In

Categories: Curtains, Theater

baby.jpg
courtesy of iTheatre Collaborative
Charles Sohn and Jacqueline Gaston get real in The Play About the Baby.
There's a lot to go out and do lately. I would credit my own frolicsome attitude for this observation, but everybody I run into says the same thing. Occasionally, a theater person of my acquaintance (not always the same one) will opine that there are just too many companies and they're pulling audience from each other.

I don't buy it. The super-popular stuff still winds up selling out. A quirky, thought-provoking, contemporary dark comedy is rarely going to steal patrons from your production of The Music Man (not that MM can't be thought-provoking), or vice versa. The point of all this is to develop new theatergoers, more theatergoers, and more savvy ones. So let's go!

As far as there being too many companies, Algonquin Theater Company, the brainy little black-box sister of Peoria's Theater Works, just closed its final show after ten years. Algonquin alumni who aren't taking a well-deserved break will disperse to other homes, like gravid queen bees. And the final production of Chyro's Voice Theatre, Orange Flower Water, closes May 16, with Scottsdale's Chyro Arts Venue itself going out with a musical bang later that night. New venues are being polished up, and new companies crafting their missions and seasons, while you read this (or while you clean your oven while you're sleeping, or whatever it is you people do). Nothing stays exactly the same, which live entertainment types should have embraced by now.

This weekend, you get to trot out and catch one of the last two performances of iTheatre Collaborative's season-closer, The Play About the Baby by Edward Albee. First, it ain't really about a baby. Second, it rightly ought to be called The Play About What The Fantasticks Could Have Been. Imagine taking out all the pretentious symbolism and putting the nutty Old Actor in charge of everyone's loss of innocence. That's what Albee did, canny old fart.

Two lovely, sometimes nude young people (Bo Allen and Sarah Chapman) become parents of a newborn, but some cosmic force apparently decides they're just too fucking stupidly happy, because an older couple (Charles Sohn and Jacqueline Gaston) appears from nowhere -- while seeming vaguely familiar -- to cast the seeds of doubt, a.k.a. passing that old forbidden apple around. (All four characters are written to exhibit a strangely appealing uncertainty about past events and the identities of others, let alone their own internal workings.)

Sohn and Gaston are Valley treasures who've acted with, directed, and taught so many people who are working theater artists now. They've also been a team offstage for 10 years, as they acknowledge in their program bios, and it's a rare treat to witness the intimacy, trust, and support that the romance brings to their performance together. (And the jealousy, irritation, and guile, when appropriate.)

The way they take Allen and Chapman's Boy and Girl (what can I do? Those are the characters' names) through a cruel dance of discovery and resignation draws a parallel to Albee's early mega-hit, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and writers tend to bring up* the way Baby parallels that work, or brings it full circle, or is a spiritual sequel. I like to think of it as a prequel: what might have happened to make Woolf's George and Martha into the horrifying marital chain-gang they are, the mutual destroyers we all can easily become when the ideal and the real keep living under one roof.

*If you haven't registered to read the free archives of The New York Times, I recommend it. They never bother me and I get to look at whatever I please whenever I want.

The Play About the Baby continues Friday, May 14, and Saturday, May 15, at the Performance Outreach Theater on the north side of the Herberger Theater Center, 222 East Monroe Street. For tickets, $16 in advance and $20 at the door, call 602-347-1071 or order here.

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