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Take an imaginary psychiatrist with you–or the memory of a real one–when you go to see Edward Albee's new anti-comedy, Me, Myself & I, now playing at Playwrights Horizons. The story of an evil twin and the mother who can’t tell him apart is written in crisp, square stanzas, with elegant use of repetition—interruptions are for monologues and mild audience interactions.  Working in his absurdist vein, the playwright offers an adult Punch and Judy show out of Ionesco.  Those hungering for Albee’s volcanic Strindbergian mode may find Me, Myself & I flat and cerebral.  Albee’s history, however, contradicts us assuming the play's ultimate lack of importance. Some of  his pieces, A Delicate Balance comes to mind, fare better about ten years after their first productions, when we’ve had a chance to digest, theorize, pontificate, and put the puzzles together.

As it happens, my viewing of Me, Myself & I was with a friend with whom I actually did share a memory of a psychiatrist–more than once after the play we said we wished we could listen to the doctor, the father of a schoolmate, analyze the show or merely tell us that it was all quite obvious.  Appropriate to a discussion of Albee—who was achieving success in the 1960s concurrent with the popularity of Freudian therapy, where cold mothers, Darwinian survival, and sexual dreams, fantasies, and death instincts were part of the cultural conversation—we began considering and then I began projecting. Albee may not, or may, have always thought he was a twin, for example.  He was also adopted during a time when one didn’t try to find the birth parents.  What this does, of course, is offer enormous possibility for a definition of self: “You can be whoever we need to be” we hear (just wait until we read the first plays by the offspring of Octomom!).

For the rest of us, who know about their own family’s pasts more specifically, Me, Myself & I may resonate best in its demonstration of the integration of the self (I don’t believe Albee would agree with this, but I found myself thinking so much about Three Tall Women after seeing the new show that this view seemed worth noting). Playwrights may (and this was true in my case) find that through explaining themselves as characters they must show their families as worse or better, but usually worse, than they actually were—this is because we cannot possibly show the full range of a family dynamic and interaction in an hour or two.  Therefore, we must choose, and, if we look at Me, Myself & I, we see both the bad son and a good one.  It’s not that what playwrights are saying may not be true about abuse or maltreatment; it’s that the text will be skewed in one direction or the other, especially as one decides on protagonist and antagonist, events, and, ultimately, the work’s meaning.  “Everything is true and none of it is,” may be the motto of playwrights—and even they must forgive the lies of truth as best they can.

The past enfant terrible of the American theatre, Edward Albee, who tells us he doesn’t want his family and brother to exist in this play may also have decided to show his good aspect in his softer “me character”  here–maybe the child who admits to having loved an unforgivable mother.     

You’ll like the cast, directed by Emily Mann:  An especially raspy Elizabeth Ashley, forever earthy, forever a pro—and always an excellent actress–commands the show, not as a monster, but as someone confused and lost.  Brian Murray nearly steals the proceedings with impeccable timing and perfect inflection.  Not that I could tell them apart, but the twins (Zachary Booth and Preston Sadler) were fine in their indistinguishability; a girlfriend in a green dress (Natalia Payne) and a man with emeralds (Stephen Payne) both worked well to fill out the ensemble.   

To add to the absurdity of this alternate universe, which includes a clear love of wordplay (the dual meanings of llama and black panthers, for example), Albee throws in a new imaginary character toward the end, the idea of a triplet:  He is found when a twin looks into the mirror.  A mirror has such potent symbolic meaning when we discuss drama that I felt the text was saying something akin to:  Through the reflection of theatre–and the mirror–the characters and the audience, even after trauma, may become one.

For Albee aficionadas, students, absurdists, and hard-core theatre buffs for now—oh, and twins!  But let’s compare notes on Me, Myself & I again in about ten years.

© 2010 by Bob Shuman     

The New York Premiere of a new play

Featuring
Elizabeth Ashley • Zachary Booth • Brian Murray
Natalia Payne • Stephen Payne • Preston Sadleir

Scenic Design Thomas Lynch Costume Design Jennifer Von Mayrhauser
Lighting Design Kenneth Posner Sound Design Darron L West
Production Stage Manager Alison Cote

Directed by Emily Mann

Edward Albee's ME, MYSELF & I

Performance times: Tues-Fri at 8:00pm, Sat at 2:30 & 8:00pm, and Sun at 2:30 & 7:30pm.

PLAYWRIGHTS HORIZONS
416 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036

Phone: (212) 564-1235
Fax: (212) 594-0296

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