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Signature Theatre Presents Albee’s " The Lady from Dubuque" at The Pershing Square Signature Center
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Signature Theatre Presents Albee’s " The Lady from Dubuque" at The Pershing Square Signature Center

- Backstage with the Playwrights

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Signature Theatre Presents:
Edward Albee’s
The Lady from Dubuque

(Albee Bio)

Directed by David Esbjornson

Signature Theatre Company
(Signature Theatre Company Website)
James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director
Erika Mallin, Exec. Director
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)

Jane Alexander, Catherine Curtin, Michael Hayden
Peter Francis James, Tricia Paoluccio
Thomas J. Ryan, Laila Robins, CJ Wilson

Scenic Design: John Arnone
Costume Design: Elizabeth Hope Clancy
Lighting Design: David Lander
Sound Design: John Gromada
Fight Direction: Rick Sordelet
Casting: Telsey + Company
Production Stage Manager: David H. Lurie
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Beth Whitaker
General Manager: Adam Bernstein
Director of Marketing: David Hatkoff
Director of Production: Paul Ziemer

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 27, 2012

The new Signature Theatre called Pershing Square is remarkable for its lobby filled with shops for books and gifts and seating areas for comfort and reflection. The entire experience at Pershing Square, with a multi-technically conceived stage space, invites imaginative anticipation about fascinating future productions. Tonight’s performance of Edward Albee’s The Lady from Dubuque opened with a gorgeous, expansive living room set with plush contemporary furniture and primitive art displayed for effect. It was that primitive art that foretold the viewer about the primitive behavior to be witnessed in this pristine space.

Three upscale couples open the play with cruel parlor games, guessing who is what, or a version of circular questions. Sam (Michael Hayden) and Jo (Laila Robins) are hosting the get-together of suburban neighbors, Edgar (Thomas Jay Ryan) and Lucinda (Catherine Curtin), and friend Fred (C.J. Wilson), who is accompanied by his date Carol (Tricia Paoluccio). Much liquor is poured, endlessly, and insults are flung, between and among the three couples, with little concern for niceties. The five friends know each other well, and Carol is treated much like a younger intruder, making the women uncomfortable and the men competitive. One could slice the tension with a sword, and then tension becomes torment. Jo wails in primitive pain, and we learn she is dying rapidly from disease and treatments. But more insults and shallow conversation ensue, as the notion of death might ruin the games and clever castigations. When Jo can no longer bear her pain, she tries to leave and cannot make it on her own, in what would be in most settings a pathos-driven moment. Yet, as Sam carries Jo upstairs, the remaining characters are quarreling and complaining. Jo can’t catch a break. So much here is reminiscent of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage.

But with three couples interacting at death’s door, this Albee work has extra weight and extra conventionality, until death actually walks in. Elizabeth (Jane Alexander) and her partner, Oscar (Peter Francis James) arrive stealthily, when all is clear and quiet, and they seem to seize control emotionally and logistically, to lead Jo to a peaceful demise. In the second act, Elizabeth claims she’s Jo’s mother, who arrived from Dubuque, but much of Jo’s first act lament was about her absentee mother, and Sam doesn’t buy Elizabeth’s claim. Throughout the play there’s much rough-housing and tumbling, between friends and strangers, but Elizabeth immediately bonds with the needy Jo, who’s slipping fast and looking for a lap. Ms. Alexander plays the part with extreme sophistication and artistic genius. Mr. James is mesmerizing, as well, with sharp literary repartee and a change of clothes from business suit to long white nightshirt. Elizabeth and Oscar are drawn as mature contrasts to the primitively behaved, wining six, who are taken aback by tranquility. Ms. Alexander and Mr. James should pair up again in future productions, as their stage chemistry worked wonders. Of the six friends, neighbors, and date, Thomas Jay Ryan, as Edgar, seemed most intriguing, as well as Laila Robins, whose pain was palpable in gesture and vocal tone.

David Esbjornson directed for shifting moods and momentum, heightening the quietude that followed the storm. John Arnone’s inviting set made use of the excellent new stage space, and Elizabeth Hope Clancy’s casual chic for guests and polished elegance for Elizabeth and Oscar were all fine costuming. John Gromada’s sound added interesting interludes, and David Lander’s lighting bathed the final scene in lustrous serenity. Kudos to Edward Albee for this rarely seen play. .

C.J. Wilson and Tricia Paoluccio
in Albee's "The Lady from Dubuque"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Thomas J. Ryan and Catherine Curtin
in Albee's "The Lady from Dubuque"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Jane Alexander and Peter Francis James
in Albee's "The Lady from Dubuque"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

Jane Alexander and Laila Robins
in Albee's "The Lady from Dubuque"
Courtesy of Joan Marcus

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at