Me, Myself and I
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
September 11, 2010
As its title might suggest, Edward Albee's Me, Myself & I is about, among other topics, narcissism. The inciting incident of the play is the decision by one of a pair of identical twins to deny the existence of the other. Meanwhile, his mother and her live-in doctor/boyfriend fret about (or at least announce) who loves them and who doesn't, but prove continually and consistently unable/unwilling to help each other or anyone else (identical twin sons included) in any way whatsoever. The catalytic identical twin, OTTO, tells us repeatedly that he's not a nice person. He's right, and he's not alone: no one in MM&I is nice in the least. Albee has given us a mean play for a mean time.
There's a knockout moment in the play's second act. I hate to tell you too much about it; if you know Albee's work you'll recognize it when it comes and it will, perhaps, throw you for a loop. It helped me make some sense of this play, which up that point seemed mostly dedicated to messing around with the audience in a variety of clever ways. MM&I's first act trades in the pithy fascination with language that's the Albee trademark—not just sly wordplay (though it is that), but a real curiosity about why we say what we say and, more to the point, why we so often fail to say what we mean or what is actually true. It's stark and spare to the point of approaching Beckettian minimalist absurdity: we never learn the name of the doctor who is laying in bed beside the mother (we never learn her name either, come to think of it); we do hear, instead, the mother's extraordinary explanation of why her two sons have the same name (Otto, but one is in all caps while the other is in small letters). Because we know it's an Albee play, and because the mother keeps protesting that she can't tell the two Ottos apart, we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop—the Virginia Woolf-esque reveal that there is only one Otto, or perhaps none at all.
But Act Two brings this picnic scene, in which the mother and her doctor/boyfriend rendezvous with Maureen, otto's girlfriend, to help her help otto through the (literally) existential crisis he is now undergoing as a result of his twin's decision that he no longer exists. No one eats at this picnic, and as I've already explained no one helps anyone either. The scene itself devolves into name-calling inspired by racism on the one hand and classist reverse snobbery on the other. But as it unfolded I formed an idea about what Albee might be going for in this play: here, you see, are the impossible mother figure and the golden boy anthropomorphization of the American Dream (two golden boys, actually). But the golden boy is as rotted-away as the mother this time. The American Dream isn't just illusory, it's eaten itself alive, from the inside.
I may well be wrong about this. The rest of the play doesn't necessarily support my thesis, but I was glad to arrive at something deeper than the game of Get the Audience that MM&I mostly seemed to be indulging in.
The play is witty and entertaining in its way, and Brian Murray, who plays the doctor, is a brilliant combination of wry deadpan satirist and understated clown, using his exquisite timing and vocal and physical comedy skills to deliver each of Albee's bon-mot retorts to maximum effect. Elizabeth Ashley brings star power to the role of the mother, but in her bizarre auburn fright wig and off-the-shoulder nightdress she somehow didn't feel formidable enough to have made such an enemy of OTTO. Zachary Booth and Preston Sadleir look quite a bit alike as, respectively, OTTO and otto; the latter is sympathetic as the victimized twin while the former is nasty enough but in a way that felt more calculated than I imagined it ought. Natalia Payne does as well as possible in the thankless role of Maureen. Stephen Payne appears oh so briefly as a character simply called The Man, a kind of deus-ex-Sam-Shepard who helps engineer a sort-of Brechtian conclusion to the piece.
Emily Mann's direction feels entirely in service of the script. Very minimal set elements are by Thomas Lynch, while the deliberately mismatched costumes—Ashley's muumuu, Murray's suit and bowler hat, the two Ottos' identical polo shirts and casual pants—are designed by Jennifer von Mayrhauser. Kenneth Posner's lights and Darron L. West's sound design are simpatico with the concept.
I would not call this a must-see addition to either the season or the Albee canon; frankly, I was hoping for something more sage and/or profound from the pen of our theatre's grand master. But it's good that Playwrights Horizons has put it up for New York audiences to see for themselves, for better or worse. Don't expect much that's nice.