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March 9, 2012

TT: Everybody was wrong

In today's Wall Street Journal I review two off-Broadway openings, The Lady from Dubuque and Tribes. Here's an excerpt.

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The premiere of Edward Albee's "The Lady from Dubuque" was one of those soul-shriveling disasters that can blight a whole career. It opened on Broadway in 1980 to a raucous chorus of critical raspberries (John Simon dismissed it as "one of the worst plays about anything, ever") and closed after just 12 performances. A decade went by before the author of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" recaptured his professional equilibrium, and even though Mr. Albee has long since gone on to further triumphs, "The Lady from Dubuque" vanished into the memory hole, going unrevived in New York until Signature Theatre surprised everybody by exhuming it this season. And guess what? It turns out to be a good play--very good.

JP-LADY-articleInline.jpgThe subject of "The Lady of Dubuque" is death, which is personified by Elizabeth and Oscar (Jane Alexander and Peter Francis James), an urbane, well-dressed couple who pay an unwelcome visit to the suburban home of Jo (Laila Robins), who is suffering from an unspecified ailment that is killing her slowly and painfully, much to the dismay of Sam (Michael Hayden), her loving husband. Jo's suffering has sharpened her tongue and corroded her inhibitions about using it on her friends and neighbors, four of whom have dropped by for drinks as the play gets underway. What follows bears a family resemblance to the "Get the Guests" scene of "Virginia Woolf," with Jo hacking away in all directions until the pain reduces her to inarticulate howling. Then Elizabeth and Oscar make their unexpected entrance just before intermission, and what started out as a hard-edged naturalistic drama becomes a sky-high comedy...

Ms. Robins is beyond any conceivable doubt the star of this show, in which she gives a scaldingly true-to-death performance, the kind that Cynthia Nixon ought to be giving in "Wit." David Esbjornson, the director, has served Mr. Albee exceptionally well, striking just the right balance between amusing archness and horrific realism...

Not much needs to be said about Nina Raine's "Tribes" other than that you should go see it as soon as you can. A well-wrought drama about a self-consciously arty family of compulsive talkers whose youngest member (Russell Harvard) is deaf, "Tribes" is being performed Off Broadway in a theater-in-the-round staging by the nonpareil David Cromer that maximizes the play's considerable strengths...

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted March 9, 2012 12:00 AM

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