Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Family Plod

Me, Myself & I
A play by Edward Albee
Directed by Emily Mann
Starring Elizabeth Ashley, Brian Murray, Zachary Booth, Natalia Payne, Stephen Payne, Preston Sadleir

Performances August 24-October 10, 2010
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street

Edward Albee’s Me, Myself & I, one of the celebrated playwright’s weakest efforts, is a wan comedy pretending to be daring and original, much like his recent successes on and off-Broadway, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? and The Play about the Baby.

Like most Albee’s plays, Me, Myself & I concerns a family that defines “dysfunctional”: middle-aged Mother can’t tell the difference between her identical twin sons, who are (almost) identically named OTTO and otto. In early Albee classics like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Delicate Balance, family situations were explored with bile but with semi-realism; now, he is besotted with an all-purpose absurdism which has become ever more absurd with each play.

Throughout Me, Myself & I, there are Albee’s usual long-winded monologues and vulgar, repetitious dialogue, along with examinations of language that even include characters correcting others’ (and sometimes their own) grammar. Someone says “llama,” another wonders if it’s the “Dalai” Lama, but the response is no, “they’re pronounced differently—llama, Lama.” Why the twins are named “Otto” is discussed, and we find that the name “reads the same forward and backward.”—“Palindrome.”—“Yes; palindrome. Reads the same forward and backward.” And, most ridiculously of all, someone says “ta” when leaving and another character says that it should be “ta ta.”

These tiresome tics have infected Albee’s writing for the past several decades, except, miraculously, his marvelous character study, Three Tall Women. The needless repetition often occurs when someone says something that’s repeated by someone else. When otto says that, if OTTO wants to become Chinese (no, I’m not making this up), he’ll have to “get his eyes slanted, his penis shortened,” Mother asks in exasperation, “His penis shortened?” Repeating that line is good for a cheap laugh, if nothing else.

But Albee abounds in cheap laughs by constantly throwing vulgar insults into the mix, guaranteeing audience guffaws because there’s nothing funnier than Mother saying “motherfucker” or otto calling his girlfriend Maureen a “whore” after finding out she slept with OTTO by mistake. Upon discovering Maureen is part French and Cherokee, Mother calls her “frog” and “half-breed,” but curiously says nothing nasty about her being part German and Scottish, making Albee’s political incorrectness highly selective.

There’s a germ of a decent idea in Me, Myself & I about twins having psychological difficulties dealing with mirror images of themselves, but the best Albee can muster—aside from the rank cliché of OTTO sleeping with Maureen while pretending he’s otto—is to have OTTO create a “third” (unseen) twin, whom he calls otto: to differentiate him from otto, no doubt.

Emily Mann directs uninspiredly on the nearly completely bare stage, while her actors are hamstrung by characters which become mere puppets for Albee’s manipulation. Brian Murray comes off best as Dr., Mother’s lover-companion for the past 28 years, thanks to his sober line readings. Contrarily, Elizabeth Ashley mercilessly hams it up, perhaps in the vain hope that that’s the best way to play Mother (it may well be!). While Zachary Booth and Preston Sadleir—good actors both—look remarkably alike as the two Ottos, they can’t mold anything out of the clotted clay their author has handed them.
originally posted on timessquare.com

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