In Arts & Entertainment

"The Play About the Baby" rocks the Boulevard

After watching the Boulevard Ensemble's Milwaukee premiere of Edward Albee's "The Play About the Baby," I found myself questioning even the most simple ideas presented in the work. This extremely complex play takes concepts that seem real enough - a young couple with a newborn baby, for example - and through recounting the surrounding circumstances over and over in different ways, calls into question what is true, or real, and what isn't. "It's tricky," says the Man, brilliantly performed by Jim Gallagher.

The Boy (Brian Bzdawka) and Girl (Anne Miller) effectively convey their utter perplexity as they keep asking the Man and Woman (Anita Domnitz), "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" In fine Albee-esque style, the Boulevard not only met, but exceeded the challenge to take its standing-room-only audience on a contorted and, at times, bizarre journey towards - and away from - these seemingly simple answers.

Scenic designer Michael Dornemann efficiently allowed the action to fold and unfold on a simple white backdrop that featured four panels painted with horse shapes, which resembled one of those puzzles missing a piece that you have to reassemble by sliding the squares backwards, forwards, up and down (sorry if the technical term escapes me). Two angular white benches occupy the middle of the stage and, at one point, obstruct the male characters in a painful way. Two figures, composed of several flat curved boards, create human-esque shapes on either side of the stage.

Per usual Boulevard tradition, the stage action is up-close and personal, so if you don't want to play an active role in the performance, make sure to arrive in plenty of time to get a seat a few rows back - out of the line of fire. Jim Gallagher and Anita Domnitz expertly kept the audience on their toes by handing them their accessories, speaking directly to individual members and, at one point, Domnitz even sat in a young man's lap.

The highlight of the show, however, was the emotional roller coaster ride the actors dragged us on again and again throughout the performance. Bzdawka and Miller brought out the warm fuzzies in us - almost to the point of nauseousness - as they basked in their post-partum happiness together. Furthermore, Gallagher literally had me in tears I was laughing so hard at his exclamations of disbelief - "Oh, CHRIST! Do you BELIEVE this?!" - throughout Domnitz's recounting of her European sexual exploits. In addition, Domnitz wonderfully channeled several characters in a rambling monologue that ranged from discussing her cooking prowess in a French accent to jumping into the persona of a journalist who talked like Elmer Fudd. Yet what goes up must come down - at least in Albee's world - and the Boulevard quartet adeptly revealed the dark side of what we know (or don't know) to be true. In a twisted reprise of previously delivered dialogue, Domnitz and Gallagher sadistically force the young couple, as well as the audience, to question their own versions of reality and, perhaps, to even change them.

The Boulevard Ensemble has successfully produced one of the most challenging plays I've ever seen. Edward Albee's "The Play About the Baby" demands an exceptional level of fortitude - not only from the actors, but the audience as well. The Boulevard has proven that they truly have what it takes to make it in this town for the last 20 years. I can only hope that they continue to put on plays of this caliber in the decades to come.

"The Play About the Baby" runs through Feb. 26. For more information, call 744-5757.

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