KPBS AIRDATE: October 11, 2002
From his first play to his latest, three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Albee has been obsessed with alienation, lapsed communication and the dissolution of The American Dream. His breakout play was “The Zoo Story” in 1958, a short one-act that tackles these themes with devastating intensity. Two years later he wrote a bizarre, thinly veiled autobiographical piece, “The American Dream,” that esteemed critic Martin Esslin called a “brilliant … example of … Theatre of the Absurd.” Now, the Renaissance Theatre Company, one of the truly bright stars in the San Diego theater firmament, has revived these early works. Producing artistic director George Flint brought the talented actor/director Glynn Bedington out of theater retirement to helm “The American Dream.”
It was a much-anticipated return, but her production misses the mark. It’s played for hard-core realism, with an excess of shouting, especially for the small space of 6th @ Penn Theatre. When the first wildly incongruous comment comes, it blindsides the audience, because there’s been no absurdist setup, except for Marty Burnett’s red-white-and-blue, thoroughly askew set. Albee’s characters are prototypes, with names like Mommy and Daddy. The dotty Grandma is the only voice of reason in a vapid, materialistic world gone mad, where no one says what they mean or means what they say, and parents literally destroy an unsatisfactory child. The ideal son here, the real American Dream, is flawless, but without heart, soul or feeling. The piece works best in the riotous realm of the fantastical, not as kitchen-sink situation comedy. Pat DiMeo is endearing as Grandma, but Dagmar Fields is the only one who captures the disorienting wackiness of the play.
Renaissance’s “Dream” is followed by a riveting ” Zoo Story.” Flint himself takes up the directorial reins, to marvelous effect in this searing drama of disaffection and disconnection. As Peter, an upper middle-class executive, sits down on his favorite Central Park bench for a good read, he’s approached by Jerry, a disheveled, hyperverbal transient who proceeds to turn his life irrevocably inside-out. Marcus Overton is terrific as the at-first amiable Peter, who’s made to see that he lives in a somnambulant state, though from all outward appearances, his life is an American Dream. Jerry, like so many of Albee’s characters, cannot connect, and he’s reaching out this one last time, with disastrous results. Jeffrey Jones has grown enormously in the five years since I first called him one of the Faces to Watch in San Diego theater. In this knockout performance, Jones nails Jerry — his intelligence, intensity, his anger, resentment and insouciant emptiness. The two actors play off each other in glorious, contrapuntal rhythm. This part of the Albee duet is magnificently orchestrated and pitch-perfect.
©2002 Patté Productions Inc.