From Joanna Horowitz, Communications Department
I’ve just come out of the first rehearsal of The Lady from Dubuque by Edward Albee, which was kicked off by the traditional meet-and-greet and design presentation that start every show we do here at the Rep. We all eat bagels, drink coffee, and check out the hot new faces in the building (read: actors). After a half an hour or so of schmoozing and face stuffing, the director talks about the show. In this case, Seattle Rep Artistic Director David Esbjornson is directing. Sometimes the playwright is here for the meet and greet—Edward Albee was not, but we learned he’ll be here for previews and opening, which for us theatre geeks is like saying Santa’s coming and bringing presents for a full week of joy.
Sometimes the whole design team for the show is here as well, but this was a pretty low key meet and greet, and David and costume designer Beth Clancy were the only ones here. No, matter, David had plenty to say about the script and the take his team has on it. First, some background:
Albee wrote the play in 1979, about (on the surface) a group of 30-something friends, one of whom is dying. A mysterious woman shows up claiming to be the dying woman's (Jo) mother, which some believe is true and others think is ridiculous.
The play opened on Broadway in 1980 and closed just three weeks later because audiences at the time weren't sure what to make of it: most likely they weren't too keen on the play's metaphor about living in a society of denial. It's been very scarcely performed since then.
I was kind of wary when I heard this at the beginning of the season: "Ok, if it's rarely performed, isn't that for a reason?" But, not the case. The play is brilliant: tight, impeccable, biting dialogue, fascinating characters, and actually quite funny. It seems like perhaps theatre going audiences just weren't able to connect with Albee for a good part of the '80s and '90s--the self examination thing, the denial thing. Now that we, as a society, are more willing to question ourselves and the world we live in, Albee's plays have a new resonance.
David talked a lot about his choice to make this a "period" piece, by keeping it set in 1979 (although Beth promised no distracting bellbottoms or platform shoes). Edward has tinkered around with updating some Nixon references to Bush references, but the plan for now if to keep the play as written: at the height of the Cold War.