Albee's 'Dream' is like TV nightmare

December 04, 1992|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

Edward Albee's 1960 play, "The American Dream," is like a nightmare sitcom. It's the evil twin of "Ozzie and Harriet," "Father Knows Best" and "I Love Lucy."

At least that's the way it comes across in Impossible Industrial Action's production at the Theatre Project. When you enter the theater, the themes from vintage TV shows are playing in the background, and when the dollhouse-like set opens up to reveal a bright, spanking living room, there are two 1950s-style mannequins posed in the easy chairs.

But wait. They're not mannequins. After the stagehands literally brush away the cobwebs, they turn out to be actors Robin J. Hogle and Robb Bauer playing the roles of Mommy and Daddy. And this is no typical sitcom, either (if anything, it bears a resemblance to "The Twilight Zone").

As the playwright pointed out in his preface to the published script: "The play is an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society . . ." Well, leave it to the ever-astute I.I.A. -- one of three local (( companies participating in the Theatre Project's new residency program -- to latch onto a theatrical commentary on family values just as we are coming out of a political campaign that, at times, seemed to focus on little else.

And, as directed by Tony Tsendeas, "The American Dream" looks at least as fresh today as it must have at its debut. A pitch-black comedy, the play focuses on Mommy and Daddy, who refer to each other as such even though, as we later learn, they mutilated and eventually murdered their adopted only child when he failed to meet their expectations.

Now they are demanding "satisfaction" -- chiefly of the material variety -- and that turns out to be the warped family value Albee is exposing at the core of the "American dream."

Tsendeas and company have come up with some marvelous touches to reinforce Albee's theme, beginning with the depiction of Mommy and Daddy as mannequins -- you don't get much more artificial than that. And, though the playwright certainly didn't intend it, there's a nice, nasty reminder of the Reagans every time Bauer's grinning-but-dim Daddy refers to Hogle's dragon-lady character as "Mommy."

Janel Bosies and Donna Sherman also maintain the proper cartoon-like style as Grandma and the adoption agency representative, respectively. But Thomas E. Cole (who also designed the clever set) seems a mite too naturalistic as the mysterious Young Man who shows up at the end, ostensibly to set things right.

I.I.A. has framed the play as a fund-raiser for a fictitious right-wing organization called Families United for Decency. But while the pre-play FUD meeting is amusing in a "Saturday Night Live" kind of way, it's also too overt and, thanks to the fine work exhibited on "The American Dream" itself, it's superfluous. Not to mention, of course, that an organization like FUD would never countenance a production like this -- it's hard to think of a higher compliment.

'The American Dream'

When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m. Through Dec. 13.

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

Tickets: $14.

Call: (410) 752-8558.

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