At 82, Edward Albee has achieved the kind of frisky joy that can come as a reward to artists who have persevered. It is as if this playwright, the author of the ferociously good Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, stared at his computer screen one day a few years ago and said, “Let there be laughter!”
In Me, Myself & I, which premiered in 2008 at Princeton’s McCarter and is receiving its New York bow at Playwrights Horizons, the mirth is plentiful, even if the pickings overall are a bit thin. It has nothing to approach the full-bodied delights of Albee’s undervalued The Goat or even the eerie daffiness of The Play About the Baby.
What Me, Myself & I does have is twins: OTTO and otto. Nominally identical, even though the actors portraying them, Zachary Booth and Preston Sadleir, look fraternal, these 28-year-old young men cannot be told apart by Mother, who lounges in bed with the perpetually petulant Doctor.
OTTO tells Mother, played with full-throttle gusto by Elizabeth Ashley, that he’s leaving home to become Chinese an
d that his lower-case brother no longer exists. Mother is not pleased. She is further annoyed to learn that otto has a girlfriend, Maureen, whose subplot creates sexual confusion.
Doctor, who revels in low-level linguistic pedantry, tells Mother that she “strews confusion”. But in this play that nods to myriad theatrical conventions (the Greeks, the Absurd) while referencing only one work by name, King Lear, Mother herself is quite devoid of confusing double meanings. She is more twinned against than twinning.
By keeping its context semi-mythological and its setting bare-bones-universal (a bed, simple chairs), Me, Myself and I invites analysis as something not merely lightweight. Here the work crumbles.
Doctor calls Mother demented. Are the twins figments of her fantasy, like the absent child in Virginia Woolf? Does her inability to tell them apart suggest a madness brought about by loss and an attendant psychological split – OTTO becoming the evil twin and otto the good?
To plumb such psychological questions is futile because Albee has not grounded Mother richly. The underwritten Doctor, played gamely but without much impact by Brian Murray, might have filled in the case history. We are left with an amped-up semi-farce with mythological overtones. () www.playwrightshorizons.org