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Me, Myself & I -- Theater Review

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When three-time Pulitzer-winning playwright Edward Albee unveils a new work, well, to quote another 20th century playwright giant, Arthur Miller, attention must be paid. But attention is not quite the same as patience, with which viewers of his latest effort might find themselves in short supply. One of Albee's more self-indulgent and willfully obscure plays, "Me, Myself & I" is far more frustrating than rewarding.

Albee seems well aware that his metatheatrical comedy will not be for all tastes, as he has a character pointedly commenting, "A confused audience is not an attentive one, I hear." It's hard not to think of the line as less self-mocking than an implicit criticism of our apparent ignorance.

The absurdist play, which visually and textually again reveals the influence of Samuel Beckett on its author, centers on the sort of highly dysfunctional family that Albee has made his stock in trade. Here it consists of 28-year-old identical twins, OTTO (Zachary Booth) and otto (Preston Sadler); their neurotic, self-absorbed mother (Elizabeth Ashley); and her live-in shrink, identified only as Dr. (Brian Murray), whose tenuousness in the household is signified by the fact that he goes to bed fully dressed.

Among the chief elements of the plot are the traumatic abandonment by the twins' father shortly after they were born, OTTO's announcement that he has decided to become Chinese and the perpetual confusion over the brothers' identities, which eventually results in a nasty situation involving otto's girlfriend (Natalia Payne).

"Is this a metaphor?" one of the characters asks at one point, certainly mirroring the thoughts of more than a few confused audience members. But that the play doesn't make any sense is less problematic than the lack of resonance in the characters and situations and the forced, unfunny dialogue that frequently goes off on linguistic tangents. Whatever ideas about such things as the nature of identity and the virulent nature of families that the playwright is trying to express are lost amid the general tedium.

The production, cleanly and precisely staged by Emily Mann, is not to be faulted, and the performers, especially veterans Ashley and Murray, certainly play the material for all its worth. But the all too accurately titled "Me, Myself & I" ultimately doesn't have much to offer to anyone else.

Venue: Playwrights Horizons, New York (Through Oct. 10)
Cast: Elizabeth Ashley, Zachary Booth, Brian Murray, Natalia Payne, Stephen Payne, Preston Sadleir
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Emily Mann
Scenic designer: Thomas Lynch
Costume designer: Jennifer von Mayrhauser
Lighting designer: Kenneth Posner
Sound designer: Darron L. West