Saturday, September 11, 2010

THEATER: Edward Albee's Me, Myself & I

As is to be expected of an absurdist comedy about a crazy mother (Elizabeth Ashley) and the existential crisis brought about by OTTO (Zachary Booth) against his identical twin otto (Preston Sadleir), Edward Albee's Me, Myself & I is a raging mess. It's a good premise, what with OTTO trying to figure out who he is, only for his frazzled, generally bed-ridden mother, to ask him "Are you the one who loves me?" and to then confess to the audience that she can't tell them apart: "I see you twenty times a day, but I don't know you." It's tragic and funny, as we've come to expect of Albee, but the initial idea's stretched to an unbearably thin two hours, with a gamut of juvenile arguments and a bunch of nitpicking wordplay trying to pass itself off as some sort of metaphor of cleverness.

The lack of meaningful characters makes it hard to feel otto's anguish at being told he doesn't exist and impossible to hate their mother, who is too daffy to be responsible for her actions. Everybody is off in their own world, including the psychiatric Dr. (Brian Murrray)--who has been living in Mother's bed (more or less) ever since her husband ran off at the twin's birth, twenty-eight years ago--and Maureen (Natalia Payne), who attempts to calm her boyfriend, otto, down with some sort of hyperactive shushing. The only character who is sane--cruelly so--is OTTO, who gleefully explains the mechanics of the show (intermissions, curtain calls, prosceniums), and at least allows us to meditate on the general identity crisis of theater. (Then again, Emily Mann's entirely straightforward direction doesn't exactly do much to shake things up.)

Albee's best full-length works--The Goat and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf--have always had something serious at stake, but Me, Myself, & I seems content to just be ridiculous and indulgent, throwing out lines like "I don't think existence determines much of anything, does it?" without caring to deal with its repercussions. Everyone feels especially untouchable in the rushed final ten minutes of the show, which opt for an artificial "Mission Accomplished"-style banner ending rather than anything approaching rapprochement. Never mind that OTTO's just slept with Maureen--something he apparently does fairly frequently--or that The Man (Stephen Payne) has just returned. For those who prefer realism, there's That Face, for those who'd like their insanity to make a little more sense, there's Oliver Parker! For those who don't care, there's this.

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