A double bed is the only piece of furniture on the wide open stretches of the stage, a turquoise painted back wall, a wood paneled floor and a few thin white vertical strips create a sense of borders or perhaps a frame in an abstracted place. So much for a home, as abstractly created by set designer Thomas Lynch. Dressed in a floral nightgown, "Mother" (Tyne Daly) is sitting up in a double bed. Well into middle-years, her short, disheveled faux strawberry blonde hair adds a lively touch to a face that expresses itself as both addled and adversarial.
Beside her is a covered up mound that will soon awaken to reveal itself as "Dr." (Brian Murray), whose face is also spontaneously reflexive of his own state of contorted contentiousness. Need we say more than that Daly and Murray have only to look their looks and say their forthcoming lines, under Emily Mann’s splendid and focused direction, to insure that all the dramatic requirements of their roles are met in Edward Albee’s newest play, now having its world premiere at McCarter.
Evidently meant to denote some peculiar aspect of their relationship, Dr. emerges from under the covers fully clothed in a suit including shoes, his black homburg propped on the top of the headboard. His slumber has been disrupted by a whack to the head by OTTO – upper case intentional – (Michael Esper), one of Mother’s identical twin sons, who has come into the room for a talk with Mother. The other twin is (lower case) also named otto (Colin Donnell) who, when talked about or to, is spoken in lower tones. "Which one are you? I never know who you are. Are you the one who loves me?, asks the conspicuously rattled Mother. The play proceeds in a series of short black-out scenes to explore the basis of identity.
As consistently humorous as it is purposefully enigmatic, "Me, Myself & I" suggests that it may stem from Albee’s own oeuvre as a child in search of his own identity. But in this play, the issues between identical twins and their mentally disoriented mother and a resented father-figure are given a wacky perspective, one designed to offer more laughs than insights. And it does.
With the recent and highly successful New York premiere of Albee’s "Peter and Jerry," the play that provides a (long gestating) first act to the 1959 "The Zoo Story," the lauded playwright (who is fast approaching 80 years old) has every right to remain eminently enigmatic. He also has the right to be as audacious in his approach to playwriting as any young playwright testing the waters.
Where to begin? Mother, abandoned 28 years ago by a husband who has not been seen or heard from since, has 28-year-old twin boys still living at home. The reason she has named one OTTO and the other otto is part of the weirdly, but often hilariously psychological motivations that propel this decidedly ditsy fruitcake of a mother. But what could be weirder than the presence of Dr., presumably a psychiatrist, who has shared the Mother’s bed from the day the husband departed to parts unknown. Neither boy has any love for Dr. despite his hardly threatening presence or his wry replies to virtually everything spoken.
While there may be in "Me, Myself & I" scenes that pay a very real and palpable homage to the absurdist metaphysics that drive the plays by Samuel Beckett and others of that genre, 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. But it is also a clever consideration of how children might attempt to free themselves from the burden of being acceptable and easily defined. Esper, who was recently seen in "Crazy Mary" at Playwrights Horizons, is terrific as the more aggressive, meaner, and more troubled OTTO, who has a solution, through denial, to sever the bond and the relationship he has with his twin. His means to an end is to become Chinese. Don’t ask.
That Esper and Donnell are similar in body type and looks, especially their mirror image haircuts, adds to the fun. Donnell, who is making his McCarter debut, is equally persuasive as the completely endearing but confounded otto, who can’t understand why his brother has chosen to ignore his existence. This, however, doesn’t stop his sneaky brother from bedding Maureen (Charlotte Parry), otto’s girlfriend. Parry proves how good an actor she is holding her own in a stand-off with the viper-tongued Mother.
While the play is disposed to favor the unstable behavior and inscrutable inanities hurled by Mother, Daly finds a pitiable and desperate aspect to the character who allows us to see more than just a woman with more than a few loose screws. The versatile Daly has a rare partner in Murray, whose instinct for comedy is incomparable. He gets one of the play’s loudest laughs with the simply stated, "I can tell them apart." He addresses the audience frequently as do the other characters throughout the play: "A confused audience is not an attentive one," a line that aptly suggests that any confusion is of our own making and not his. But that comes before we find out that there may, indeed, be another Otto in the making – an italicized one. "Me, Myself & I" may not be as extraordinary an entry as some others in the Albee canon, but it is, nevertheless, a fine example of the robust dramatic resources that still reside in this great American playwright.