Friday, February 24, 2012

The Lady from Dubuque **

(Please click on the title to see the entire review.)
When the new play Edward Albee was writing for Signature Theatre wasn't ready in time, they bravely -- or foolishly -- decided to replace it with this play, Albee's most notorious flop, which ran for 12 performances on Broadway in 1980. It is indeed a very strange play, uncomfortably blending black humor and pathos. Three suburban couples are playing 20 Questions in the home of Sam (Michael Hayden) and Jo (Laila Robins). Lucinda (Catherine Curtin), a friend of Jo's since college, and her husband Edgar (Thomas Jay Ryan) are treated with contempt by the others. The thrice-married Fred (C.J. Wilson) keeps telling prospective wife #4 Carol (Tricia Paoluccio) to shut up as she tries unsuccessfully to fit in. There is much bickering with occasional asides to the audience. Jo is terminally ill and in great pain, a circumstance that she uses as a license to treat everyone horridly. After the guests leave and the hosts go to bed, Elizabeth (Jane Alexander), an enigmatic older woman of regal bearing and her mysterious black companion Oscar (Peter Francis James) suddenly appear. When Sam discovers the pair in his living room the next morning, Elizabeth tells him that she is Jo's estranged mother. He refuses to believe her. The party guests from the previous night reappear and resume their bickering. Jo unquestioningly accepts the comfort offered by Elizabeth. Is she Jo's mother, the angel of death, or just the lady from Dubuque? Your guess is as good as mine. The play alternates hilarity with inscrutability and tragedy. Jo's piercing screams of pain will not leave my memory soon enough. It is not top-drawer Albee, but I was glad to have the opportunity to see it. I won't go so far as to recommend it though. The cast is fine, except that Hayden's performance seemed a bit overheated. David Esbjornson directed. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes including intermission.

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