Sitting hand-in-hand, two young lovers gazed into each other’s eyes while the audience piled into the theater. Within 10 seconds after the characters Man and Woman were introduced, the young couple decided to have a baby, clearly not thinking it through because they were “young,” “horny” and “in love.”
“The Play About the Baby,” written by Edward Albee in 1996, critiques American values and is geared toward a younger audience. UC Santa Cruz fourth-year and the play’s director Lily Sorenson said there is a lot of societal pressure to go to school, find someone special, get married and then have a baby.
“It’s important to challenge the young people who are about to go and make those choices,” Sorenson said. “As college students who are about to graduate, [they should be the ones] to decide what they’re going to do with their young lives. This show speaks to a college audience.”
The show uses color to distinguish the cast of only four characters. Boy wears a blue shirt and Girl wears a pink dress. In contrast, Man and Woman are dressed almost entirely in black to showcase their life experience and suggest that the older generation can provide insight for the younger generation -— one of the show’s major themes.
“The premise for many of Edward Albee’s shows, including this one, is [to show] what we can learn from older generations and how they relate to younger generations,” Sorenson said. “It’s an interesting piece to be directing as a 21-year-old.”
Although UCSC’s theater arts department chose Sorenson to direct this play last May, Sorenson had only three weeks to prepare the performance.
“The technical aspects like lighting, sound, set and costumes have all been in communication for the entire summer,” Sorenson said. “We just had three weeks after we cast the show to work with the actors and get everything together in a tangible form.”
Given the circumstances of timing, the prop designer was resourceful, incorporating items from storage within the department.
“Our prop designer [Cody Lee] pulled everything from stock, so that was incredible,” Sorenson said. “He didn’t spend any of his budget.”
Although props were not a concern, the cast struggled with mastering the physicality of this comedic performance while memorizing monologues to get off book for opening night. Fourth-year Lucas Brandt, who is cast as Man, wrestled with keeping the audience engaged during this unpredictable performance.
“The show takes such random leaps,” Brandt said. “There is no clear, logical [structure]. It jumps from one subject to another.”
First-year Nathan Cabrera, cast as Boy, shares Brandt’s sentiment, specifically discussing the structure of the second act.
“All of Act II is so fun because we’re so on top of each other’s lines and it’s like a total smack in the face out of nowhere for the audience,” Cabrera said.
The plot thickened as Man and Woman stole the “baby” at the beginning of Act II. Among all this chaos, third-year Hayley Jackson, cast as Girl, said her biggest issue was trying to make her character relevant for the audience. For the rest of the show, Jackson moved up and down the stage and frantically screamed, “Where’s my baby!”
“I usually play big, bucksome, mean, powerful or silly characters,” Jackson said. “It was a challenge to tone it down and also make [Girl] into a character who was going to be compelling for the audience.”
The unusual structure of this play focuses on more than a “baby,” director Sorenson said.
“With this play, the plot is not the driving force of the show. It’s more of the overall concept of the characters’ goals.”
Man and Woman serve as a reminder of what is “important” because they want Boy and Girl to realize, along with the audience, that they are having a “baby” for all of the wrong reasons. Bringing a child into this world simply because they enjoy the concept of a “baby” does not mean that Boy and Girl are ready to be parents.
This intimate performance creates an exciting space for audience members and characters on stage. Third-year Rachel Levy, cast as Woman, engaged with the audience by speaking directly to them, which is known as breaking the fourth wall.
“Being cast as a character who can break the fourth wall and interact with the audience gives you a new sense of energy,” Levy said. “You have power when breaking the fourth wall.”
When Man and Woman revealed that the “baby” does not exist at the end of the show, all of the audience members were astonished as they tried to find the hidden meaning in the scene.
“Everyone should have their own process of figuring out what this play means to them and why it’s valuable,” director Sorenson said. “That’s easier than me packaging up a message and delivering it [to the audience] through a show.”
Sorenson also spoke about the philosophy behind Albee’s work and how she used that to shape the performance’s flow.
“Albee said any show that can be summarized in three sentences should be three sentences long,” Sorenson explained. “It’s a play that challenges you and that is definitely open to interpretation. I intentionally made it in a way that the ending leaves you with more questions than answers.”