Edward Albee defied the downward trajectory of an aging genius. Lauded in his youth and then critically reviled in middle age, Albee disarmed detractors in his later years with “Three Tall Women,” a Pulitzer winner that exploited Albee’s troubled relationship with his mother, and “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?,” a Tony winner for best play whose sit-com premise intensifies to tragedy.
Albee, who died last week at 88, wrote “The Play About the Baby,” now enjoying a sterling staging at the Road on Magnolia theater in North Hollywood, when he was 70. The play has received radically mixed reactions since its 1998 premiere. Non-linear and meandering, “Baby” is an arguably lesser work, a meta-theatrical outpouring that alternates between the comical and the dire.
“Baby” commences with an idyllic romance between Boy (Philip Orazio) and Girl (Allison Blaize), beautiful innocents (Adam and Eve?) whose Edenic microcosm is disrupted by the unexplained arrival of two older visitors, Man (Sam Anderson) and Woman (Taylor Gilbert). They are comical kidnappers — possibly the jaded older alter-egos of the lovers — whose vaudevillian antics cover menace. Cruelly and relentlessly, they force their young victims on a journey from innocence to bitter experience.
Superb design elements, most notably Lily Bartenstein’s lighting and projection design, buoy director Andre Barron’s impeccably paced staging. The superlative cast is spearheaded by the magnificent Anderson, a mesmerizing villain whose creepy affability will tickle your funny bone while raising your hackles.
However, it’s Albee’s enduring and youthful spirit of experimentalism — his intrepid refusal to knuckle under to critical expectations or the demands of the marketplace — that make this play, and in particular this production, a fitting memorial that should be seen.
‘The Play About the Baby’
Where: The Road on Magnolia, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays; ends Nov. 5.
Information: (818) 761-8838, www.roadtheatre.org
Running time: 2 hours
Follow The Times’ arts team @culturemonster.