Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The American Dream"

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note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi


by Edward Albee
directed by Mike Kiernan

Mommy … Dawn Tucker
Daddy … Bob Emery
Grandma … Meg Quin
Mrs. Barker … Jocelyn Winzer
Young Man … Christopher Staley


“Fam & Yam” by Edward Albee
Fam … Jeff Swaebe
Yam … Rocky Graziano

“Twirler” by Jane Martin
The Twirler … Meg Quin

The humorist Fran Liebowitz once quipped that the girl who suggests Ionesco’s THE BALD SOPRANO for the senior class play will be a thorn in everyone’s flesh for the rest of her life; my own choice, at eighteen, had been Edward Albee’s THE AMERICAN DREAM which was promptly rejected for being far too provocative --- after seeing it performed, over thirty years later, by the New England Repertory Company, I’m happy to report that this little Absurdist comedy still gives a few gooses: a domineering Mommy and an emasculated Daddy wait in their living room for the arrival of a Mrs. Barker. While Mommy verbally abuses Daddy, Grandma wanders in with brown-paper packages tied up with string, complaining about what it means to be old, nowadays; she represents the bedrock virtues of hard work and decency being eroded by the heartlessness and materialism embodied by her daughter. Mrs. Barker, an extremely busy chairwoman, arrives without a clue as to the nature of her visit but Grandma fills her in: years ago, Mrs. Barker sold Mommy and Daddy a bumble (i.e. baby) which died soon after various mutilations and now Mommy demands satisfaction. A beautiful, emotionally numb Young Man enters, looking for work; under Grandma’s instructions, Mrs. Barker offers this ‘American Dream’ to Mommy and Daddy as a bumble-compensation. Mommy is pleased with the transaction --- she has received (and, no doubt, will be getting) satisfaction. Grandma quietly quits the scene with her packages but re-appears to draw the play to a close just as Mommy mentions that her new son somehow seems familiar…. THE AMERICAN DREAM, one of Mr. Albee’s earlier works, foreshadows the embattled married couple to which he would often return and, judging by THE PLAY ABOUT THE BABY, Mr. Albee never lost his dry-ice sense of humor --- the humor of an Outsider --- nor his weird playfulness that keeps him from bogging down. What a pity that he never collaborated with Mr. Sondheim --- a mordant Gilbert for a tortured Sullivan.

I was curious as to how Mike Kiernan would stage THE AMERICAN DREAM which is very much a product of Cold War repression, the scouring Black Humorists and Phillip Wylie’s famous attack on the American Mother --- you’ll find today’s Mommy in the boardroom rather than at home --- not to mention all that talk about women’s hats. Happily, Mr. Kiernan has directed in period but with a shift in tone: Bob Emery, an actor of quiet authority, is a tolerant Daddy, full of “yes, dear” superiority which, in turn, reduces Dawn Tucker’s Mommy to a horrid little girl though Ms. Tucker locks into Mr. Albee’s satire more so than her fellow actors (her looks can stop you in your tracks). On the afternoon I attended, Mr. Kiernan announced a last-minute cast replacement for Grandma and that Meg Quin (see below) would be going on, holding book. Given the circumstances, Ms. Quin offered enough of a spry old characterization and, to her credit, rarely had to check her lines --- she should be off book in time for the closing performances. Christopher Staley makes an overly preening Young Man, quite pleased with his own yumminess, and the statuesque Jocelyn Winzer is visually stunning as a dim-witted Mrs. Barker, not unlike the fashion plates that vaudeville clowns drooled over; when Ms. Winzer removes her dress to parade about in her slip and pearls, vaudeville gives way to erotic burlesque. (Insert wolf-whistle, here.)

Mr. Albee’s comedy is preceded by his sketch FAM AND YAM, an encounter between two American playwrights, one Famous, one Young, which ends in a punch line at the elder’s expense and Jane Martin’s TWIRLERS, a monologue delivered by a fanatically devoted baton twirler. Jeff Swaebe makes a very jolly Fam in his cups and Rocky Graziano is hyper-cheeky as his rival Yam. Ms. Quin gives a mini tour-de-force as the Twirler, her power emanating from her standing stock still and gradually letting her audience know how gaga her character really is which points up how the others tend to wander about without style or purpose as if the balance between word and action must always be observed. If Mr. Kiernan could plant the Messrs. Emery and Swaebe in their respective chairs, for starters, things would thicken and grow, considerably.

"The American Dream" (15 - 23 April)
M.M.A.S. Black Box Theatre, 30 Crocker Street, MANSFIELD, MA
1 (508) 339-2822

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide