Though it might otherwise be dismissed as a horribly-written play, Me, Myself & I inspires additional disappointment, flowing as it does from the pen of three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Albee. A moving and clever piece, it is not. Perhaps the only element that could have saved and justified its stodgy formal progression—an insistent meta-theatricality—comes off as forced, hackneyed, dismissible. Yes, Albee reveals, these are actually actors onstage. We get it. Got it. Good.
Now up at the Berlind and directed by Emily Mann, the play begins with a peculiar conceit: a young man named upper-case OTTO (Michael Esper) has decided that he wants to seize the future by becoming Chinese, and that his twin brother, lower-case otto (Colin Donnell), doesn’t exist. OTTO initially confronts his family—the neurotic and emotionally abusive Mother (Tyne Daly) and her whipped, unloved live-in boyfriend, the Dr. (Brian Murray)—with ambitious plans and conclusions about his brother’s existential disappearance.
The show is crap and is better analyzed in scatological, not journalistic, terms; however, in this flop, Esper still lessens the pain with a vitriolic delivery, a malignant spirit, and a series of incisive monologues. Donnell somewhat successfully manages, as a twin, to mimic Esper’s movements—his hip-juts, his feline gait, his pocketed hands with thumbs flying free. But despite this mirror-play, Esper acts Donnell off the stage, and instead of concentrating on the performance, one wonders what type of acting training each has had.
OTTO goes on to cause further intra-familial rift when he screws otto’s girlfriend Maureen (Charlotte Parry) while pretending to be his brother. The raunchy sex scene appears staged for shock value, and the buffed-up Esper has a larger chest than his female bed partner. When the two are caught in the act by otto, Esper pitifully scampers off-stage (he definitely doesn’t have to cover up his near-invisible member). Orgasmic moans or not, the tedious mediocrity of the play has already been revealed, and the emotional residue of betrayal is diluted by Albee’s invented and imaginary “calamity bell” that otto rings for help—a limp move toward a dénouement, if you ask me.
This is a work plagued by complacency. Daly plays her Mother with much remove and too much false gusto, because she knows she’s an actress who can get a robust applause by merely appearing onstage. She seems to have memory interference, too, as some lines are delayed, others twisted or delivered only partially-correctly. She glows, though, in her theatrical element; she also happens to think that glow perfectly sufficient, even compensatory, for the ultimately nightmarish ensemble performance. Her scenes in bed with the Dr. are so static, one cannot help but yawn (the elaborate sham pillows and green covers greatly outdo her acting). Brian Murray suffers from the same self-satisfied state such that his bavardage smacks of a cloying mediocrity. On a picnic with Mother (strangely reminiscent of Pozzo’s saunter with Lucky: perhaps homage to Albee’s beloved Beckett), Murray is as abominable and unclear as ever. He’s a pitiful character who elicits some humorous pity from the audience, but this hardly makes up for his unclear mumble and languorous, saliva-spewed delivery.
Albee himself, one could argue, is complacent in his undeveloped writing; actors direct their musings to other characters and then to the audience, as if drafting their own lines. By calling attention to every idiomatic expression used in the work—the way a foreigner might delight in a newly acquired language—the playwright enjoys too openly his no-holds-barred pun-for-all.
And Albee absolutely embarrasses himself when attempting to quote from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock—he gets the verse wrong, substituting “nor do I pretend to be” for “nor was I meant to be.” Allusions are often best made subtly, but Albee then feels the need to have otto proclaim, “It’s T.S. Eliot.” To an educated Princeton audience and McCarter’s well-read, geriatric subscription base, such a slip-up and bastardization is far from forgivable, and it makes the rest of the play feel as if is Albee merely digging for faux-profundity and cheap laughs. Arguably worse are the grammatical “mistakes” (actually perfect English) he has other characters erroneously correct.. Perhaps, Albee, a self-proclaimed autodidact, should have signed up for grammar courses at Hunter’s continuing education program.
The palabrotas and ensuing brouhaha—“You can’t say something like that onstage”—lessens the headache of this coarse production. Yet one wonders what Mann actually did in the rehearsal room to moisten Albee’s desiccated text; her efforts are traceless in this abomination of a drama, and a critic hardly knows whom to blame.
As in the sex scene, Albee seems to cover up the many rough edges of his play by staging feeble attempts at controversy. His favorite way to imbue the polemic is by providing outwardly racial statements. Albee tries to be socially conscious by intimating disdain for racial taboo: he includes a joking mistake between actual black panthers and the African-American activist group, writes slurs about how Chinese people have slanted eyes and lack of phallic endowment (but justifies the slap by attributing the language as originating from the monstrous Mother), and becomes infatuated with the Mother’s distaste for Maureen based on her Cherokee blood and mélange of European ethnicities. Albee’s a class American act when he pokes fun at the Trail of Tears, complete with Indian and mixed-race epithets. How positively enlightened of him.
This is no Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962).That work and The Zoo Story (1958) aside, Albee is dismissible and offensively bad. In this piece, Albee jukes and jokes too much, transcends his far too limited abilities, and inevitably flops. It’s remarkable that the man who had such a bite when he wrote Woolf could offer such a mealy, unappetizing work.
The only attempt at narrative drive is OTTO’s promise that his father will return to reclaim his spot in the family. And so, when the ending comes, the effect is a veritable cheese-fest, with the husband (Stephen Payne), arriving on a sleigh after a 28-year absence accompanied by sacks of emeralds and black panthers (the jungle cats, not the militant African-American paramilitary society—thanks, Edward). Payne must really be struggling in the actors’ union to take this two-bit part in a one-bit drama. Mother’s complaints and insults drive him off again, and the play ends on a sour note. The audience didn’t seem to mind, though; no one could actually care about these maladroitly drawn stick-figures, nor muster even the slightest concern for their emotions.
Albee has lasted five decades in the harsh theatrical limelight, and that’s a truly remarkable feat. But enough is enough, and someone needs to clue him in. Don’t see Me, Myself & I. It hard not to know shit when you smell it.