Maybe you have heard about that Edward Albee play at McCarter Theater, "Me, Myself, & I," and are wondering what it’s all about. Or maybe you have actually been to the play at McCarter and are still wondering what it’s all about.
If so you are not alone. I have been to the play, read all the important critics’ reviews of this world premiere, and I am not any closer to knowing what it’s all about than you. But I have to add two points: 1.) It’s been a lot of fun trying to figure out the connections between the madhatter mother, the identical twins named Otto (one upper case and one lower case), the doctor who sleeps fully clothed, the endearing girlfriend, and the real father who ran away from this craziness 28 years ago. And 2.) Albee the playwright is obtuse, but beautifully so. No wonder he still has no day job as he approaches his 80th birthday.
So where do we begin to figure out this play (which continues at McCarter through Sunday, February 17)? Herewith some snippets from the critics as they tried to answer the "about" question.
Peter Filichia of the Newhouse News Service, whose review appeared in the Trenton Times on February 3: "There are serious messages. Parents and siblings can make other family members feel irrelevant. Children have both a need and a responsibility to find their own way. Fathers are still unrealistically expected to provide easy solutions to a family’s problems."
Stuart Duncan, the veteran reviewer in the Princeton Packet, who also has been a theatrical producer ("Godspell"): "In order to fully understand what we are seeing, it would be helpful to go back four decades. Albee had just written `Tiny Alice’ and asked British playwright and lyricist Noel Coward for comments.
"Coward wrote to Albee: `I know now, or I think I know what’s happening. But what I don’t know is what you think is happening.’ He went on to explain: `Expert use of language is to me a perpetual joy. You use it expertly all right, but I fear too self indulgently. Your duty to me as a playgoer is to explain whatever truths you are dealing with lucidly and accurately. I refuse to be fobbed off with a sort of metaphysical What’s My Line?’"
In his February 1 review Duncan suggested that the production might have been better off as a workshop for the play, which he described as a "work-in-progress."
Simon Saltzman, the veteran reviewer who has been covering the drama beat as long or longer than Albee has been writing plays (50 years) in the January 30 U.S. 1 review: "This play appears to be coming from a deeply personal corner of self-analysis. It may also be seen and enjoyed simply as a loony comedy of fraternal conflict and familial discord as triggered by neurotic parental choices."
Ben Brantley in the January 28 New York Times: "There’s something endearingly old-fashioned about `Me, Myself & I,’ at least by the standards of the avant-garde. At the same time it’s shot through with a first-year philosophy student’s fascination with big, unanswerable questions and with an excited, obsessive awareness of the possibilities and limits of theater. This may be the work of an old master, but it pulses with the enthusiasm of a love-struck neophyte."
Toby Zibman in the January 28 Philadelphia Inquirer: The new Albee play, Zibman writes, "is a frisky glance over the shoulder at the themes that have preoccupied him and the styles that have characterized his work. It is entertaining and thought-provoking, full of bizarre segues and the playful wordplay that is signature Albee.
"Despite lots of audience laughter, the play is not a comedy. The struggle for identity between OTTO and otto is deeply, life-threateningly serious, and it may be that we have been watching an internal drama externalized, that the twins are two aspects of one personality.
"Me, Myself & I becomes another in Albee’s long list of plays about the baby: imaginary sons, invisible sons, vanishing sons, and silent sons. The biographically inclined may see all this as Albee’s ongoing creative use of the fact that he was an orphan, unhappily adopted; as he said recently, `I was very lonely. So I invented an identical twin.’"
Zibman comes close to what I was thinking as the January 26th matinee performance concluded. The twins could be one character, rather than two, and, I thought, the whole cast of characters might be nothing more than the fertile and twisted imagination of the one character who has the last line in the play: "What have I done to deserve all this," the anguished mother cries out.
Could they all be the figments of her schizophrenic imagination, right down to the two identical offspring, one who – in her mind, at least – hates her, and one who loves her? And how different is that from the tricks our own minds play? The other day a friend said that a mutual acquaintance hadn’t sent her a Christmas card – she wondered if the acquaintance didn’t like her?
At that point, of course, I might have leaned down to the row of seats immediately in front of me, and tapped the shoulder of the slightly built gentleman who had been watching the show with the fervent intensity of a new parent following his toddler across the playground. The man was Edward Albee himself, and maybe he could give the succinct answer if I could summon up a "what’s it all about, Albee" question for him.
Or not. Fortunately before the play began I had read the program guide and "A Letter to An Audience" from Albee. He addressed the "about" question head-on:
"I tend to become uncooperative – and occasionally downright hostile – when people ask me what my plays `are about,’ especially the new ones, about which I’ve usually not assembled a provocative yet vague enough short paragraph to avoid answering the question, yet seeming to.
"What is `Me, Myself & I’ about? Oh, about 2 hours, including intermission. Will that do?"
For me, as the curtain falls on my time and space, I am afraid it will have to do.