Me, Myself & I
By Edward Albee
Directed by Emily Mann
Featuring Elizabeth Ashley, Zachary Booth, Brian Murray
Playwrights Horizons, 416 W 42nd Street
production web site: http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/mainstage.asp
September 12, 2010 – October 31, 2010
Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
September 30, 2010
In a world pared to its black and grey and whitewashed essence we ponder words and the ideas of relationships rather than feel our way into layered familial experiences. Edward Albee‘s Me, Myself & I in a limited engagement at Playwrights Horizons lives in a world (designed by Thomas Lynch) of shadows and light and a blood-red scrim that fits my personal aesthetic it so happens. Our theatrical world awaits us through blood — of genetics, of birth, of psychic wounds? The choice of red intrigues. This choice and myriad others in this work and this production provide intellectual gamesmanship, skittering round the edges of a theatrical experience.
Mother (the magnificent treasure Elizabeth Ashley) has reduced her life to home and bed since giving birth to twins OTTO (Zachary Booth) and otto (Preston Sadleir) 28 years before. (All possible reflections on these names — “big one” and “small one”; you’re both my Otto; you were one at my breast; individualizing as a task of young adulthood — are indeed addressed by the end of this academic adventure.) “Dr.” (Brian Murray) has been living with the family as a bedmate of Mother (apparently fully dressed complete with shoes in bed and out) since the birth of the twins. Father of the children left at the time of their birth. One twin attempts to grow through a relationship with an actual human being Maureen (Natalia Payne) ,while the second twin attempts to grow through causing chaos in the family unit around him. And enough of plot — this is a story of verbal and emotional and philosophical gaming.
Does the play succeed on its own terms? It certainly falls within a certain stylistic tradition. Plenty of direct address and characters correcting each other’s grammar and references to literature and philosophy that may or may not “land” for individual audience member. Shards of language and extended fragmentary exchanges based on slight misunderstandings that stem from verbal play — think Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf without a straightforward story and conventional set housing it, with random bits of absurdism thrown in. I was entranced by several of the performances (Ashley and Murray and Booth in particular) but never engaged in this world that becomes mired in its own relentless monotonic rhythms. It is an academic exercise in psychological concepts and banter. Go for the stage pictures. Go for the opportunity to see a few of theatre’s great established and future stars. And perhaps the play on paper will instruct.
I’ll close with one of the references that did “land” with me because I already adore the language and the moment. Very early in the play, OTTO (yeah I know) the gaming twin remarks as an aside in testy banter with Mother that his family “will not tell me who I am” and credits the concept to James Agee. In keeping with the nature of interactions in this play, the line is delivered with all-knowing snark by OTTO and no one picks up on the reference nor does real conversation ensue. This became a sweet moment for me because that reference did land and expand in circles of meaning — the phrase alludes to Agee’s posthumously published A Death in the Family and the prepended essay “Knoxville: Summer 1915”, a long-time favorite of mine. In this essay an adult remembers summer evenings as a child in an American suburban neighborhood at the beginning of the 20th century. At the end of one of those long days and an evening surrounded by loving family, Agee reflects in the final sentences of this essay:
After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.”
The verbal and emotional connections in that sequence provide more connection and context than this play manages in its 2 hour runtime.
© Martha Wade Steketee (October 1, 2010)