Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Lady From Dubuque: An Unnecessary Revival

The Lady From Dubuque @ Pershing Square Signature Center
Edward Albee’s early work, The Lady From Dubuque, is getting a revival from the new Signature Center Theater.  It is a rarely seen work, which even the author admits is difficult.  “Difficult” might be putting it too kindly.  The Lady From Dubuque doesn’t work on multiple levels.
Jane Alexander as The Lady From Dubuque
The story opens with 3 couples playing a 20-questions like game called “Who Am I?”  The game gives ample opportunity to flesh out these characters; but instead we are given a set of unpleasant stereotypes.  A milquetoast couple, a thrice divorced man and his new young girlfriend, and Sam and Jo, the hosts.  Jo is terminally ill, which has turned her nasty disposition into hurtful shrewishness.  Beyond putting in a polite, perfunctory appearance, there is no reason any neighbor would stray within spitting distance of Jo.  Her nasty asides to the audience are sometimes humorous.  But the biting comments to her guests are purposeless attempts to pull everyone down to her level.  It is unpleasant to watch.
As to her illness, Jo appears to be dying of terrible menstrual cramps.  It is a quibble to argue for reality in a surrealist show, but Jo’s pain is both so loud and so intermittent, as to be unbelievable.  She is remarkably agile in the first half, popping out to the front yard to comfort Lucinda - before walking back in the house, only to scream and hold her lower stomach.  Then she pulls out of the pain long enough to berate her husband.  This on-again off-again wouldn’t be a problem, but the next morning (in Act 2), Jo is so delirious as to not recognize anyone and has suddenly arrived on death’s doorstep. 
The second half is where the real trouble starts.  At the end of the first act, strangers Elizabeth and Oscar show up in the house, uninvited and mysterious.  In the second half they act as a catalyst to set up existential questions – as the characters from last night drop by for no particular reason.  But because no character acts as they would in reality, the questions are exercises in passing time.
Oscar is an African-American, and his dialog is where the play often shows it’s age.  Peter Francis James does a good job making the dialog acceptable, but it still veers occasionaly into uncomfortable for no reason.  C.J. Wilson’s character, Fred, - as the strong alpha male, has also aged poorly.  What was once “manly” is now bullying and misogynistic. 
Jane Alexander does a fine job as the ethereal Elizabeth, but the problems with motivation and actions doom not just her character, but the entire proceedings.   Elizabeth, The Lady From Dubuque, is a cypher and it is hard to create a connection to this type of character.
All in all, it is hard to recommend this show to anyone but a devoted Edward Albee fan.
The Lady From Dubuque at The Pershing Square Theater, at the Signature Center
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: David Esbjornson
Cast: Jane Alexander, Catherine Curtin, Michael Hayden, Peter Francis James, Tricia Paoluccio, Thomas Jay Ryna, Laila Robins, C.J. Wilson
Through April 1

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