Published in In Theater March 1999
It’s the smorgasbord syndrome. You taste a little of this and that and the other thing, and soon it all starts to mush together on your plate. You lose the individual flavors. You long for a more complete and focused repast. Ultimately, you come away full, but not satisfied.
And so it is with the Old Globe production of “Albee’s People,” two evenings in repertory (“Albee’s Men” and “Albee’s Women”) that celebrate 35 years of dramatic theater-making by three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Albee.
“Albee’s Men” premiered two years ago as a solo showcase (featuring Stephen Rowe), commissioned by the Playwrights Project, based in San Diego. The piece has since expanded to 6 actors and 43 excerpts — from Albee’s first, “The Zoo Story,” to his latest, “The Play about the Baby.”
Developed under the watchful eye of Mr. Albee, the idea was conceived and directed by Glyn O’Malley, who for years served as Albee’s assistant and literary director of the Edward Albee Foundation. As Associate producer of Vienna’s English Theatre, he directed several Albee world premieres (including “Marriage Play” and “Three Tall Women”).
Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to divide the plays in gender-specific ways. Each anthology includes a young, a middle-aged and an older person, and after several such interactions, they start to look/sound/feel the same.
After awhile, all the men start to sound gay and whiny, worried about their outsider status, their eternal alienation and impending death. The women seem boozy and bitchy, blithely seducing each other’s mates or otherwise interfering in their lives. These desultory East coast gentry seem to have stepped off the page of a Gurney play or a Cheever story — only Albee’s people are darker, angrier, unhappier. Not to say they don’t maintain a biting sense of humor.
But in the end, though one may admire the wonderful word-wrangling and emotional intensity of Mr. Albee, the little bites make you long to savor each dish in context, in toto. Make you want to see a full-on Albee retrospective.
You can’t quibble with the performances. All are excellent, from the grounded and thoroughly gratifying ‘older’ actors -Lois Markle and Richard Easton, through the formidable mid-life Carol Mayo Jenkins and Allen Williams, to the often intriguing young’ns- Brian Hutchinson and Jennifer Erin Roberts.
In O’Malley’s uncluttered arena staging, the costume changes are minimal and the primary prop is a crystal decanter and glasses (see booze, above). The women’s pieces are delicately linked, as each helps to dress, groom or nurture the other(s) between scenes. The men’s scene separations are more abrupt. Either way, it’s sometimes difficult for the audience to make the transition, since some of these dramatic moments are chilling, disturbing or emotionally draining, and before we can catch our breath, they’re on to the next conflict, monologue or musing.
Is the fact that we come away less struck by the range than the sameness a function of the structure, the selections, the acting or some X-factor? Hard to say. But after two nights of stuffing myself with tidbits, I was left with dramatic dyspepsia.
©1999 Patté Productions Inc.