The Lady From Dubuque
Even those familiar with Edward Albee's most famous works and his trademark absurdist style might still have trouble appreciating his sinister, surreal and altogether puzzling 1980 play "The Lady From Dubuque," which flopped on Broadway after just 12 performances.
Off-Broadway's Signature Theatre Company, which recently moved into a new multi-theater complex, was originally set to premiere Albee's new comedy "Laying an Egg."
But because the 83-year-old playwright couldn't finish it in time, Signature has scheduled a revival of "Dubuque" in its place. (Signature is also currently presenting Athol Fugard's "Blood Knot" and Katori Hall's "Hurt Village.")
As it begins, Sam (Michael Hayden) and Jo (Laila Robins) are hosting a party at their stylish home for two other couples, and they are all engaged in a game of 20 Questions. While Michael tries desperately to stay upbeat, Jo sulks angrily over the fact that she is dying of cancer - often directly to the audience.
At the end of Act 1, a mysterious older couple (Jane Alexander and Peter Francis James) arrives on the scene. Although the woman claims to be Jo's mother from Dubuque, Iowa, Sam insists that she is not Jo's mother, who actually lives in New Jersey.
But strangely enough, Jo deliriously embraces the woman with open arms while poor Sam is tied up, beaten and ridiculed by the crowd. Although it is never explicitly stated, it's pretty clear that this couple represents Death coming to take Jo out of her misery.
Although the play is essentially a mishmash of shock-value scenes and unapologetic nonsense, David Esbjornson's absorbing production stresses its violent qualities, and it's marked by some thoroughly intense performances.
Robins convincingly portrays Jo's blinding pain with raw intensity, while Hayden emphasizes Sam's sincerity in spite of his overwhelming confusion and torture.
On the other hand, Alexander is cool, regal and quite commanding. With James as her poised, often sarcastic partner, they make a great couple to find onstage - but hopefully never in your own home.
If you go: "The Lady from Dubuque" plays at the Pershing Square Signature Center through April 1. 480 W. 42nd St., 212-244-7529, signaturetheatre.org