That’s mostly because it’s impenetrable. Much of the screaming comes from Sam (Michael Hayden), in whose house the play opens. He and his wife, Jo (Laila Robins), are hosting friends in their Room & Board-perfect suburban manse (the lovely, soaring set is by John Arnone), and a cocktail-fueled late-night game of 20 Questions turns angry. This is of course classic Albee territory—the vicious, drunken party game—though it’s hard to see what this one reveals, except that nearly all these people are odious, for various reasons, and also that Jo is terminally, painfully sick. (Thomas Jay Ryan and Catherine Curtin play Edgar and Lucinda, a married pair of bores, and C.J. Wilson and Tricia Paoluccio play Fred, an explosive menace, and Carol, his latest girlfriend, perhaps the most sensible of the bunch.)
Amid screams and tears, the friends leave. Sam and Jo go to bed, and then an elegant, older couple wanders in, dressed in all whites and light grays. They are called Elizabeth and Oscar, we will learn later, and they are played by Jane Alexander and Peter Francis James. They make themselves comfortable, to wait for Sam and Jo to wake up, and for Act II.
Once Sam happens upon the couple, Elizabeth insists she is Jo’s mother, come to visit from Dubuque. It is clear, however, that Elizabeth and Oscar instead represent death. Soon enough the friends from last night have walked in—so much angst could have been avoided, if only Sam and Jo had locked their front door—and there is much more yelling. Sam is, for a period, tied up on the floor of his living room, near the cowhide rug. Ms. Alexander and Mr. James are delightful, dignified and composed and very droll. There is more yelling. Eventually, Sam comes to accept his wife’s imminent death, and she dies.
In a recent interview with The Times, Mr. Albee acknowledged that he sees and has seen problems with the play, but that he has not addressed them for this revival, which is handsomely directed by David Esbjornson. “If you write plays because you just want them to be liked, you have to lie too much,” he said. The Signature is devoted to showcasing a full range of a playwright’s work, and in that context there’s an argument to be made for mounting a revival of a play everyone acknowledges doesn’t work. Some of us, however, prefer to enjoy what we’re watching.
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