By Lucy Komisar
Edward Albee is like a painter with a single overpowering theme. For him, it is the searing experience of being an adopted child of parents he hated. His direct and opaque musings on the subject appear through his plays. The Play About the Baby, a surreal work in which two older people steal a baby from a young couple, is logically followed by Me Myself & I, in which Mother (Elizabeth Ashley) names her twin boys Otto (actually OTTO and otto), a way of divesting each of identity, and much later – when they are 28 – tells otto that he doesn’t exist
The play is strange, engaging, even amusing, especially when Mother, the blowsy, intense, very talented Ashley is on stage. And it is certainly bizarre, as it revolves around this woman who spends most of her time in bed in a orange and white patterned dress that might be a night gown or maybe just a tacky (too low-cut) street dress.
Beside her is the doctor (Brian Murray), also 60, in banker’s suit and bowler hat. He arrived 28 years ago, about when the children were born and Mother’s husband left, and appears also to spend his time, fully dressed, in bed. Murray, who was the complicit Man (father) in The Play About the Baby, seems quizzical, as if he were viewing all from the outside, watching not partaking. He occasionally addresses the audience through the space where the fourth wall ought to be.
Both young actors are first rate in the difficult OTTO/otto roles, making their characters seem plausible when they might easily seem just weird. Zachary Booth as OTTO, the nasty, cynical brother, and Preston Sadleir as otto, the soft-voiced and therefore lower-case and ultimately the betrayed one, express the emotions we must believed mixed in Albee’s soul. And director Emily Mann pulls you in to the story even as you shake your head about its absurdity.
The style continues apace, peculiar but also rather obvious. The doctor says, Maybe everything would have been easier if you hadn‘t named them both Otto.
Mother acknowledges, I would call one and they would both come–they were always together–they would come running–“Mommy! Mommy!” But she had turned them into the same person and thereby stripped them of individual identity.
OTTO (Booth) asks the doctor, Ask her why she doesn‘t know who I am. And you never tell me…who I am. He envied friends who had parents. And we grew up fast; we had to…. but you expected us to love you? Are we witnessing someone’s psychoanalysis?
The story proceeds with Beckett-style dialogue and word games, and even a tableaux of a picnic that looks like it came right out of a work by the old master. The deus ex machina turns out to be a red and yellow cart pulled by four black panthers.
If you’re an Albee fan, you’ll want to see this addition to the canon. If you’re not, you might think the plot a rather extended shaggy dog story.
Me, Myself & I. Written by Edward Albee; adapted & directed by Emily Mann. Playwrights Horizons at 416 West 42nd Street, New York City. 212-279-4200. Opened Sept 12, 2010; closes Oct 31, 2010. http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/.