ALBEE DIRECTS ALBEE -- At the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater through March 4.
Edward Albee, feeling that his one-act plays have suffered from being performed principally by amateurs and college students, has taken his own show on the road.
In "Albee Directs Albee," playing through March 4 in the fine new Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center, Albee stages eight of his works in the manner and with the players he chooses, with a different pair of works performed each day.
One must suppose, then, that Albee is showing us just what he wants us to see. In "The American Dream" and "The Zoo Story," which he chose for opening night, he shows us why the plays have been performed principally by amateurs and college students: meant to be cerebral and biting, they are in fact shallow and pretentious.
According to producer Mark Hall Amitin, he and Albee interviewed more than 500 actors while assembling the seven-player company. Having presumably found the ideal cast, they straightaway clapped them in irons, restricting the sets and the stage business so severely that the players are reduced almost to talking heads. Yea, and talk they do, to no end except the curtain -- and, this being Albee -- there is no curtain.
And, this being Albee, there is no plot and precious little framing. Even when there are as many as five actors on stage, as in "Dream," they produce not so much dialogue as overlapping monologues. On campus this may be taken as a profound statement of the essential isolation that is the human condition.
The players manage, even while performing in straitjackets, to create life on stage where none exists in the lines. Sudie Bond, playing Grandma in "Dream," is a more accomplished mugger than any to be found in Central Park; Wyman Pendleton, as Daddy, manages to raise sitting in a chair to an art.
In "Zoo Story," Stephen Rowe, playing the same amorphous young man he portrays in "Dream," uses body English in place of the King's; but it is hard to see how anyone could carry off the monologue with which his character is freighted. "Zoo" (1958) was Albee's first play, and shows promise. It promises, early on, to tell a fascinating story, and starts to do so. But, dreadfully long before the stage goes mercifully dark, enticement becomes teasing, and teasing becomes tedium; and the denouement is artistically and intellectually insulting.
If Albee were Shaw or Shakespeare he would perhaps be justified in attempting to pull off these short, solemn, static, talky plays that seem to run so long. But Shaw, who was a master of the language, couldn't do it; and Shakespeare, who was the master of the language, knew better than to try.
Still, Albee has a following, and as Lincoln said when asked to endorse a play, "People who like this sort of thing will find it just the sort of thing they like."