As part of Edward Albee’s ongoing 80th birthday celebration the playwright has directed two of his early one act plays, “The American Dream” and “The Sandbox” at the venerable Cherry Lane Theatre. The satires of American values, intended as a homage to the French absurdist Eugene Ionesco, were written almost 50 years ago as an assault on middle class values, but today remain startlingly fresh and even contemporary.
As “comic nightmares” on a dysfunctional family, his third and fourth plays, arrived on the scene after the explosive success in 1958 of his first play, “The Zoo Story.” In brief fashion (the first is a little over an hour, while the second is a mere 15 minutes) the playwright plants the seeds for many of his future characters, especially the married couple at the center of his Pulitzer Prize classic “A Delicate Balance.” But you see echoes of another Pulitzer Prize winner, “Three Tall Women” as well as nods to Martha from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf". This is the voice of an angry young man rebelling against the shallowness of his adoptive parents. Indeed Albee reminded us on his 80th birthday that when he left home at 18 his adoptive mother told him “You won’t make it to 20.”
The living room of “The American Dream,” where the middle aged Mommy (Judith Ivey) and Daddy (George Bartenieff) threaten to send doddering Grandma (Lois Markle) away with “the van man” (Harmon Walsh) is allegorically wallpapered in red, white and blue. In “The Sandbox” Mommy, Daddy, and Grandma sit on the beach, while a sculpted hunk (Jesse Williams), the angel of death, patiently does calisthenics as a cellist plays sad music composed specifically for the piece.
Unfortunately Albee had to replace one his leading ladies Myra Carter, who he considered to be brilliant in the role of Mommy, due to illness. Lois Markle filling in at the last moment feels too vital, which may be just what the playwright wanted. But quibbles aside (the performances with the exception of the marvelous Judith Ivey don’t have the needed impact) the plays together, as Albee intended them, make a potent theatrical comment on our lack of morals that is all the more relevant today reminding us we are now off track by an additional fifty years.
Edward Albee has referred to his legendary body of work as “an examination of the American scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty and emasculation and vacuity, a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of our is peachy-keen.”
In what must be considered the twilight of his life Albee continues his attack. Next, his play “Occupant” about his late friend the artist Louise Nevelson begins rehearsals with Mercedes Ruehl for the Signature Theatre. After that back to Broadway for the transfer of his new play “Me, Myself and I,” about identical twins, which opened to rave reviews at Princeton’s McCarter Theatre in February.
No complacency here! After that Albee is off to the Easter Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where he plans to stay three weeks working on yet another new play “Silence” set on the idyllic spot a thousand miles away from anything the playwright will craft his latest assault.
By: Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
“The American Dream” and “The Sandbox” opened on April 1, 2008 at The Cherry Lane Theatre. Tickets are available by calling Telecharge.com at 212-239-6200.