Me, Myself & I
Elizabeth Ashley gives a masterful performance in Edward Albee's periodically hilarious and often frustrating comedy about a troubled family.
As is his wont, Albee touches on any number of philosophical topics over the course of two hours -- most notably, the meaning of identity. But his serious subject matter is buried, perhaps too deeply, beneath a slew of absurdist situations, quasi-vaudevillian banter, unnecessary repetitions, overuse of breaking the fourth wall, reliance on meta-theatrical devices, and the playwright's typical fondness for wordplay. Often, it feels as if Albee is practically daring the audience to pay attention to what he really wants to say instead of what his characters are actually saying.
Indeed, one isn't always sure what Mother (Elizabeth Ashley, in a masterful performance) is talking about -- which isn't completely surprising coming from a woman who can't tell apart her grown twin sons, OTTO (Zachary Booth, who displays considerable talent and, albeit briefly, a remarkable physique) and otto (Preston Sadleir). Indeed, she's not completely sure which of her sons has entered her bedroom and made two startling declarations: that he is going to become Chinese and that he has decided his brother does not exist.
The culprit is OTTO, and his outrageous statements -- and worse yet, his equally outrageous actions -- wreak havoc on not only his brother and mother, but his mother's lover of 28 years, Dr. (Brian Murray), and, eventually, otto's girlfriend Maureeen (Natalia Payne, who has the somewhat unenviable task of calling Ashley the worst curse word in the book, even if her character momentarily deserves it).
Albee has often spoken of -- and dramatized -- his disaffection for his real mother, and this knowledge may temper one's reaction to Ashley's character, who can seem benign and malignant in the same breath. Displaying a remarkable lack of vanity by appearing in a dowdy nightgown and a quasi-fright wig, Ashley creates a woman who is part hausfrau, part grande dame (and one blessed with Ashley's expressiveness and trademark vocal delivery). Even at her most hateful or exasperating, she is little short of mesmerizing.
Murray, no stranger to the Albee canon, relies primarily on his trademark double-takes, eye rolls, and arsenal of vocal inflections to get his well-deserved laughs. Yet, he simultaneously generates some genuine pathos as a man whom, as he points out over and over again, nobody loves.