Albee's new drama: a game of 'Who am I?

The Lady from Dubuque Play by Edward Albee. Directed by Alan Schneider. Starring Irene Worth. This play begins with six couples playing the party game, "Who am I?" And ends by seeking to ponder deeper aspects of the question. Edward Albee's new tragicomedy concerns not only identity crises but the responses of her husband Sam, and her friends to the fact that Jo is fatally ill. The party game in fact , is more in the nature of a desparetate distraction than a pleasant diversion.

As the party progress, the impression grows that these affluent suburbanites don't really know each other very well or like each other very much. Mr. Albees sees to it that none of them, not even Jo. is particularly appealing.

Marriages and relaitionships survive in spite of hurts, humiliations, and casual cruelties. As one guest observes, "i don't know how six people can make such a mess of a perfectly good evening."

In the second act, the Albee social satire takes on a new tone and texture. The delicate balances shift. Sam and Jo's house is taken over by Elizabeth (Irene Worth), a mystery woman of Pauline Trigere chic, and Oscar (Earle Hyman), her serenely poised black companion. Elizabeth claims to be Jo's mother, a claim Sam violently disputes until Oscar renders him unconscious with a kar ate trick. The super-sophisticated intruders are clearly beings from another dimension come to shatter Sam's limited perspectives and provide Jo with the release that will come with her death.

Miss Worth's Elizabeth is the most elegant and commanding of supernatural creatures imaginable. She gives a grandly witty performance, filled with worldly (or perhaps one should say otherworldly) wisdom. As Oscar, Mr. Hyman cuts a buoyantly dashing figure -- unflappable, cheerfully mocking, and delicately fastidious.

The brittle but vulnerable Albee folk are well played under Alan Schneidr's direction by Tony Musante as the troubled Sam and Frances Conroy as the sticken Jo, Maureen Anderman as Carol and Baxter Harris as her foul- mouthed boor of a boyfriend and David Leary and Celia Weston s the remaining couple. Rouben Ter-Arutunian's lofty duplex setting, with its off-white walls and black-upholstered furniture, matches the rarefied atmosphere of a visitation by this remarkable lady from Dubuque. Monsieur Amilcar Play by Yves Jamaique, adopted by George Gonneau and Norman Rose. Directed by Robert Kalfin.

This dark comedy has a light touch. A program note for the Chealsea Theater Center production suggests placing its author, French playwright Yves Jamiaque, somewhere in the middle ground between Pirandello and Sacha guitry, the old master of Paris boulevard comedy. Instead of Pirandellian brooding over the confussion between illusion and actuality, Mr. Jamiaque uses such ambiguities for the purposes of piquancy and laughter.

The underlying despair at the heart of the play dictates is bitter denouement. But the road to despair is anything but gloomy. Indeed, "Monsieur Amilcar" is one of the funniest of recent comedies. The adaptation by George Gonn eau and Norman Rose seems adroitly attuned to Mr. Jamiaque's droll imagination, and Robert Kalfin has directed with both flourish and finesse.

The fantastics plot centers around the strange notion of Alexander Amilcar (Larry Keith), a wealthy but lonely Parisian. Confessing that he has been deceived in every possible way, amilcar hires three strangers to impersonate, respectively, his wife, his daughter, and his best friend. Eleanor, the "wife" (Judith Barcroft) is an actress whose star potential may be her own illusion. Virginia, the "daughter" (Sheila K. Adams), a could-be revolutionary, supports herself by prostitution.

Machou the "best friend"played by K. Lype O'Dell is a practicing but improverished survivor.

At one point, Eleanor asks Amilcar what he hopes to achieve by the masquerade for which he is both producer- director and sole audience. "Never to be deceived ," is his reply. There's the rub. For as the relationships progress, the masqueraders come more and more to resemble the idealization Amilcar has imagined. And the more geniune they become, the more suspicious he grows. The author embellishes the situation by introducing Virginia's boyfriend (Mark Keyloun) and eleanor's "mother," played with marvelous histrionic gusto by Patricia Falkenhain.

Mr. Keith acts Amilcar with just the right balance of comic absurdity and underlying desparation that make the presposterous charade theatrically believable. Miss Barcott conveys the emotional truth of a woman who risks falling in love with her eccentric employer. Mr. O'Dell's Machou achieves a genuinely touching passage with the gift of affection that Amilar violently rejects. Miss Adams and Mr. Keyloun are fine as the two young people.

The production is greatly enhanced by Michael Sharp's elegant scenery, Elizabeth K. Palmer's chic costuming, Robby Monk's lighting, and John McKinney's incidental music. "Monsieur Amilcar" graces the season.

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