We meet OTTO in front of a red scrim. He is a handsome twenty-something of slender build with a Cheshire cat smile. He tells the audience that he is there to “make things even more complicated than they are around here.” OTTO has a twin brother, also named otto (no, I didn’t forget to use caps, he’s lower-case otto, soft otto).
OTTO and otto’s mother (named Mother, in truly Albee fashion) is deliciously played by Elizabeth Ashley. Her explanation for naming the twins the way she did is one of the evening’s many masterful moments of comedic reasoning. The Otto’s father left the family when they were born. Mother’s doctor (unsurprisingly named Dr.) immediately moved in to fill the void. OTTO warns his mother that his father may yet return (with panthers and emeralds in tow, a child-like premonition of a better life?)
In the droll role of Dr., Brian Murray is wickedly funny with a pat delivery of his lines, his whimsical rhetorical questions to the audience and the putty-like contortions of his face. Mother has relied so much on Dr. that he appears to be living in her house and in her bed. When his character is revealed, Dr. comes up from underneath bedsheets fully clothed, including shoes. It is debatable as to whether the good Dr. is there as a lover or merely there in his role as her doctor. Fully clothed in bed would lead one to believe that his presence there is merely professional. No matter his role, both Ottos seem to resent Dr.’s presence in their mother’s life and house.
OTTO has come to announce that he is a) going to become Chinese; and b) has replaced his twin brother with another brother saying that his twin brother no longer exists. This drives Mother, Dr. and otto to distraction. No one can figure out how he can become Chinese and why he wants to get rid of otto and exchange him for another brother. During most of the first act you believe you are watching the story of a mad as a hatter, tormented woman. The question of whether either of the Ottos or Dr. are even real did come to mind.
While Edward Albee has said that Three Tall Women is the only one of his plays that is autobiographical, one can’t help but wonder how the characters of Me, Myself & I were informed by Albee’s upbringing as a reluctant adoptee who, according to him was “purchased” by his adoptive parents for $130.33. Both Otto’s recalcitrant relationship with Dr. and even Mother seem like they might have been inspired by real events. Is this a mirror of Albee’s own relationship with his adoptive parents? The fear of abandonment might well explain what trigger’s OTTO’s dis-owning of his twin brother and his new-found fondness for his new brother (also named Otto, “in italics”) who is actually just the reflection he sees of himself in the mirror. The obvious message, the only person you can ultimately count on is the man in the mirror.
In Me, Myself & I the actors interact with the audience. Albee’s writing serves this technique well. They respond to the audience and make us aware they know we are there. With Albee’s absurdest milieu, this breaching of the fourth wall feels completely natural. Ms. Ashley seems to have the most fun with this. She has multiple double-takes that are in response to a reaction from the audience.
In the second act we meet otto’s girlfriend, Maureen played by Natalia Payne. The second act takes on a more literal tone with otto imploring Maureen to go and speak with his mother to convince her that he does indeed exist. In a final act of calculated manipulation OTTO slips in and sleeps with otto’s girlfriend Maureen, while she believes that it is her otto.
There is a shiny moment towards the end of the play where the Otto’s father (played by Stephen Payne) does indeed reemerge from his 28-year absence. In contrast to the modest scenery of the rest of the play, this moment verges on spectacle. We hear a rumbling and the blare of trumpets and suddenly the floor opens and rising through it is the boy’s returning father in a chariot pulled by six black panthers. In the back of the chariot, garish basketball size emeralds. Above the chariot is a banner that says “The Happy Ending.” Perhaps another of Albee’s long-time subconscious desires, a happy ending.
Loud, or upper-case OTTO is played with snide perfection by Zachary Booth with soft, or lower-case otto played by Preston Sadleir. While it is said that identical twins are... well... identical, the way that Mr. Albee has drawn this set of identical twins, they are not identical but rather, almost polar opposites, bad OTTO and good otto, loud OTTO and soft otto. Both Booth and Sadleir handle their respective roles with alacrity.
Director Emily Mann has done an excellent job of keeping the craziness of Me, Myself & I ratcheted up to a frenzied degree. She has tightly framed the piece and seemingly encouraged the actors to go for broke.
As I was leaving the theatre I heard someone behind me exclaim, “I didn’t get it.” There were certainly many places in the play where I could understand that but the joy of this piece for me is Mr. Albee’s asking us to think and form our own opinion. So while I may have interpreted this as auto-biographical, despite Mr. Albee’s previous statement, I felt a sense of freedom and creativity in being able to be a part of the process.
Me, Myself & I is running at Playwrights Horizons at 416 West 42nd Street Through October 24, 2010