Baby Want A Kiss

opened last night at the Little Theatre, New York City

Baby Want A Kiss tries to walk a delicate line between satire and psychology and falls flat on its face. Playwright James Costigan takes us behind the glamorous facade of a Hollywood couple into the sordid little bathroom of their lives and the result is almost laughable when serious and pretty unfunny when humorous.

Mavis and Emil (Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman) traipse out to the country retreat of an old pal, a writer, Edward (played by Costigan); they hope to lure him back to Hollywood to dash off a screenplay of Walden. But what they really like about Eddie is that he swings. It seems that Mavis is a nymphomaniac, Emil tres gay, and Edward can play both ways.

Like all satire, Costigan's humor dwells on the difference between appearance and reality, but the appearances he mocks are obviously hollow, Costigan thinks it's rich that muscular, America-firster Emil is a queer, that steely, sultry Mavis always leaves her door unlocked in hotels, and that shuffling, knock-kneed Edward is the sexual object of both public demigods. So, stars are phonies, so what?

Once he has dispatched with all that mendacity, Costigan reveals psychological truth. And how does he do it? The characters tell each other their dreams Edward was rejected by mommy; he needs love. Mavis wanders from man to man; she needs love. Emil wants to be a daddy; he needs love. But Edward cannot satisfy their confused desires, and he rejects them both. To relieve their frustrations, Emil and Mavis transfer their guilt feelings by condemning Edward.

Costigan must have known he was dealing in cartoon-like commonplaces; his failure is to establish a point of view. The audience is aware that he is being satirical when he spoofs Emil's supposed masculinity, but it isn't sure how seriously to take the psychological mishmash. If Costigan is truly concerned with dreams and guilt feelings, he doesn't say very much, badly. And if the whole play is intended as a boff of modern theater, Costigan fluffs the job by giving the production an overly sober tone.

Newman and his wife have said that they had left the fake West for some real acting in the legitimate theater. And both are always fun to watch and at times as real as one could wish. But because of Costigan's myopia, no clear Mavis or Emil (or Edward for that matter) ever comes through; the only consistent performance is from Barney, the sheep-dog (played, the program reports, by Patrick, the sheep-dog). And he can't save the show. Baby Want A Kiss some how manages to be as inane as its title.