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A CurtainUp Review
Me, Myself & I

You strew confusion in your path .— Dr, on Mother' giving her twins the same rather than similar names, which confirm his conviction that she is crazy-- or, to fine tune that word, demented.

A confused audience is not an attentive one— the doctor who's a stickler for linguistic preciseness aptly suggesting that if the audience is confused about which twin is which or what's going on, it's their fault and not the playwright's.
Elizabeth Ashley and Brian Murray
Elizabeth Ashley and Brian Murray
(Photo: Joan Marcus )
Just a few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to see a superb revival of Edward Albee's first Pulitzer Prize winning play, A Delicate Balance, at the Berkshire Theatre Festival. Its director, David Auburn, himself a Pulitzer Prize recipient, succeeded in bringing out the sense of the ridiculous that that is present in all Albee plays. The combination of directing, acting and a script typical of Albee's best work, did indeed achieve the delicate balance to make everything come together — both the realistic and absurdist elements, the humor and the horror.

That production had me crossing my fingers that this distinguished playwright had written another Delicate Balance to celebrate his octogenarian status. While Me, Myself & I proves that he hasn't lost his sense of humor, this is more of an out and out farce than a humor tinged, delicate journey into the darker corners of our psyches.

Emily Mann. who commissioned and directed this play for the McCarter Theater in New Jersey, is on hand for its Playwrights Horizon production to deftly steer another dysfunctional Albee family through its whacky interaction. The last of the play's seven scenes will clarify the meaning of the triple pronoun title, but it's up to the audience to find any deeper meanings beneath the whacky family dynamics.

Albee followers will have no problem recognizing characters and themes from earlier works. The issues of parenting and identity are evident in the character known only as Mother who's too demented to actually be a mother to her palindrome-named identical twins. The twins themselves give intimations of Albee's conflicts as an adoptee who's certain he actually had a brother (possibly a twin) somewhere. But this is Albee-lite. The issues the twins have with their mother andwith the man who since delivering them 28 years ago has taken their father's place in her bed but not in their hearts are explored with the emphasis on laughs and purposeful confusion that goes beyond differentiating between the twins. But, keeping in mind George Burns' famous remark that old age not being for sissies, Albee at 82 may be forgiven for letting broad laughs overshadow his traditionally pitch-black views and not letting his fun house setup turn into a house of horrors.

The plot, if you can describe this absurdist family saga in terms of a beginning, middle and end, begins with OTTO, the one who's basically the evil twin, addressing the audience and announcing his need to separate himself from otto. This is distressing news for otto, who feels his identity threatened by his brother's wanting no part of him (though that does not prevent OTTO from occasionally taking advantage of the fact that even otto's girlfriend can't tell them apart).

To set his separation in motion OTTO barges in on his mother who's in big double bed with a fully clothed Dr beside her. He declares his his intention to become Chinese (remember, this IS an absurdist comedy!) His becoming Chinese will do little to change Mother's perennial confusion about telling her sons apart, which is not the case for the doctor. He also believes in linguistic preciseness and in one of numerous linguistically correct pronouncements attributes Mother's confusion to her giving the same names to her sons (as opposed to similar names) — thereby confusing the twins, herself and any less than attentive audience members.

The ensuing scenes have otto desperate fighting to deny OTTO's negation of him as an identifiable entity and are heavily flavored with Beckettian imagery. The most Godot-like scene is a picnic (with a picnic hamper filled with uncooked sausages) at which Mother has arranged to meet otto's girlfriend Maureen. Unmotherly as she is, once Maureen shows up, Mother proceeds to lay claim to first place in her son's affection by venting her undisguised racial prejudices against the already desperately befuddled young woman.

All the characters address the audience at one point or another. The symmetry of the otto/OTTO identity struggle bookends the play with the twins introducing and concluding the play.

Me, Myself & I
Zachary Booth as OTTO, Preston Sadleir as otto
Because Tyne Daly, the original Mother was unavailable (probably too busy touring in her latest role as a cabaret artist), the husky-voiced Elizabeth Ashley has flamboyantly stepped into the part. And while Thomas Lynch has followed the playwright's instruction to avoid detailed naturalistic set design, Ashley nevertheless manages to make a feast of the bare bones scenery. At times she struck me as a little too voracious. Fortunately, Albee's virtuoso interpreter, Brian Murray, is still on board to play the doctor with his exquisitely understated comic delivery. His sharing that bed fully clothed can be taken as a visual metaphor (the passing years have not made the doctor feel less transient and kept him ever ready to depart in the event the absent husband returns) or just a hilarious visual gag.

The twins and Maureen are new and very capable additions to this production. Zachary Booth as the OTTO, the more aggressive or evil twin and Preston Sadler as otto look enough alike to make you double check the credits to see if the casting directors had actually found twin brothers. Their performances are fine and so is Natalia Payne's as otto's girl friend Maureen. However, this is Ashley and Murray's show. The one other cast member, Stephen Payne, like Murray, is reprising his role that identifies him only as The Man — a very funny bit part that also gives set designer Lynch a chance to create a visual coup-de-scenery.

For the statistics minded, this is Edward Albee's 30th play (with two more in the works) but his first play with Playwrights' Horizon which is celebrating its 40th season. For more about about Albee and links to plays by him reviewed at Curtainup, see our our Playwrights Album's Albee Backgrounder.

New York Production Notes< br> Me, Myself & I
By Edward Albee
Directed by Emily Mann

Cast: Elizabeth Ashley (Mother), Zachary Booth (OTTO), Brian Murray (Dr), Natalia Payne (Maureen), Stephen Payne (The Man), Preston Sadler (otto)
Set Design: Thomas Lynch
Costume Design: Jennifer von Mayrhauser
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Soundscape: Darron L. West
Stage Manager: Alison Cote
Playwrights Horizon 416 W. 42nd ST.
From 8/24/10; opening 9/12/10; closing 10/10/10
Running time: 2 hours including intermission
Tuesday to Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 2:30 and 8pm, Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm
Tickets $75, student rush $15
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 9/10 press preview
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