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Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Me, Myself and I:
Edward Albee at His Most Hilarious

also see Bob's review of And Her Hair Went With Her

Tyne Daly and Brian Murray
Edward Albee's vaudevillian, absurdist farce Me, Myself and I is a delightful comedy, the bleak landscape which Albee has created notwithstanding. For Albee does not allow the bitterness, regret and pessimism which is inherent in the situation which he depicts to deflate the buoyancy of this enterprise. It is not that, as he approaches his eightieth birthday, Albee has changed or even ameliorated his view of the world. It is more as if he has attained an equanimity, even a mellowness, toward the hated vicissitudes of society and family which inform his work.

As per Albee's instructions, there isn't any naturalistic scenery. Only an open, brightly lit, full stage (front to back, wings to wings, floor to ceiling) with fresh, unpainted wooden planks underfoot and at the rear, four narrow metal vertical poles framing the center stage, and three small white panels (one at each side of the stage, and one overhead front and center). There is a bed center stage. A wasteland, but a most attractive, inviting one.

Mother (Tyne Daly) and Dr. (Brian Murray) are lying under the covers with their heads propped up. Mother is wearing a nightdress and Dr. is fully dressed in a three-piece suit, and has a bowler hat in hand. Twenty-eight years ago, Mother gave birth to identical twin sons. Then and there, her husband abandoned the family, effectively ending their nine-month long marriage. At that time, her friend Dr. came to the house and he has since stayed.

Mother had named both her sons Otto. Well not exactly. The first born is "OTTO", and the second born is "otto", and, anyway, the latter's name is the former's name spelled backward. That describes what Albee has in mind for us. OTTO hates Mother, but otto loves her (they both strongly dislike Dr. only because he is not their father and has usurped their mother's bed). Still, Mother cannot tell her twins apart. So, OTTO with a certain logic asks how can she know which one is hassling her at any given time.

There is a crisis afoot. OTTO (Michael Esper) declares that he has no brother. He adds that he is leaving and he is going to be Chinese ("The future is in the East, and I want to be in on it."). We meet otto in corporeal form (Colin Donnell). The second born otto, the softer and more loving twin, fears being abandoned by OTTO. Little otto has fallen in love with the lovely Maureen. Unbeknownst to them, OTTO has been banging Maureen by passing himself off to her as his otto.

Certainly, OTTO/otto are the result of a self-centered Mother and their father's act of abandonment. The view from here is that both OTTO and otto are real, but otto is likely to be the creation of OTTO. This interpretation comes without any guarantees. Hopefully it will whet your interest and provide a feel for what Albee is up to.

Emily Mann has directed with an exceptionally confident and sprightly hand. The excellence of her contribution begins with her casting. Tyne Daly deftly employs a casual and flippant air as she snipes at all those around her. This gives a nice comic edge to Daly's performance, and is in keeping with the total lack of self-awareness that is one of Mother's principal characteristics.

Most impressive is the irrepressible Brian Murray. With his expressive face and gestures, Murray sharply defines the differing, but easily blurred, differences between being quizzical, perplexed and frustrated. Murray also conveys his quick wit and ingratiating manner. The latter seems the best defense that the decent but weak Dr. can muster to defend himself. The comic style employed by Murray strongly brings to mind Bert Lahr's performance in Beckett's Waiting For Godot, cementing in my mind Albee's link to the European theatre of the absurd.

Michael Esper and Colin Donnell, costumed identically in black pants and blue sport shirts, are physically well matched for the playing of identical twins. Esper is so effective as the cold and hostile OTTO that when he gleefully boasts, "I'm not nice", while addressing the audience, the person sitting directly in front of me angrily blurted out, "NO!". Donnell is solid in the less showy role of the nervous and troubled otto. Charlotte Parry is sympathetic as otto's much put upon multi-ethnic girlfriend.

Albee's contagious "enthusiasm for language" is evident throughout as he regales us with puns, overripe metaphors, distortions of logic, literal responses to figures of speech, and witty literary allusions while continuing his signature exploration of the search for self identity by alienated adult man-children of dysfunctional and self-absorbed parents. Parenthetically, Albee manages to make the play's bleakest moment its most hilarious one. As this occurs in the play's final moments, I will not discuss it further.

Edward Albee's Me, Myself and I is both heartfelt and hilarious. There are infinite shades of meaning here that will be analyzed and debated for a very long time to come. What is instantly knowable is that we are in the hands of a master playwright who has provided us with a richly entertaining new play.

Me, Myself and I continues performances (Eves: Tues-Thurs and Sun 7:30p.m.; Fri and Sat 8p.m./ Mats: Sat 3p.m./Sun 2p.m.) through February 17, 2008 at the McCarter Theatre Center (Berlind Theatre), 91 University Place, Princeton NJ 08540; box office: 609-258-ARTS; online

Me, Myself and I by Edward Albee, directed by Emily Mann
OTTO…………………..Michael Esper
Mother……………………….Tyne Daly
Dr………………………Brian Murray
otto…………………....Colin Donnell
Maureen…………...Charlotte Parry
The Man………………Stephen Payne

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- Bob Rendell

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