The Lady From Dubuque

NICOTH Review by Julie Koerner

"Who am I?" This ultimate question of personal identity serves as the overriding theme for Edward Albee's 'The Lady From Dubuque.' How humans define themselves is often dictated by their relationships with loved ones, friends, and parents, and by the needs and desires of those same people. When the Lady from Dubuque arrives claiming to be Jo's mother, her presence threatens Sam's relationship with Jo. Without Jo, Sam is forced to face the ultimate question, "Who am I?" alone.

Jo is dying. Sam is Jo's husband, best friend, caregiver --- her entire life. They have no children and no family in evidence, but Jo needs closure with her mother before dying. The nature of their relationship, or lack thereof, is never made clear. Albee leaves the details to his audience, which is just as well.

At opening, Jo and Sam are having friends over for an evening of drinks and a game of Twenty Questions, the evening deteriorates as the hostess and her guests hurl spiteful remarks and caustic observations. The overwhelming presence of death and pain is palpable. The guests flee home, leaving Sam and Jo to their personal tragedy.

Act II starts with Sam's discovery that Elizabeth, the Lady from Dubuque, has arrived in the dead of night with her mysterious consort, Oscar. She claims to be Jo's mother, though Sam knows this is a fraud. Elizabeth is a lady of impressive manners, intellect, and worldly refinement. She speaks with a subtle English/European accent and is clothed in an elegant dress. Whether Elizabeth is truly Jo's mother is irrelevant. Elizabeth fulfills Jo's need.

Rohanna S. Doylida as Jo provides a moving and emotional portrayal of our dying heroine. Doylida credibly shifts between divergent moods, often within the same sentence or breath. She gracefully plays the extreme vulnerability and strength of a woman facing death. Robert Ayres (Sam) portrays Jo's drained, angry husband. His anger and fear, though always present, peak at the beginning of Act ll during his confrontation with Elizabeth and Oscar. Ayres portrays a deep empathy for Sam's situation. Also genuine is the connection between Ayres and Doylida, so necessary to establish the emotional core of this play.

Albee's intense, thought provoking script touches not only on personal identity, but on issues of race, society, individual rights, private property, death, and grief. His dialogue is reminiscent of 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' in the rapid-fire overlay of lines and the sharp-edged barbs and knock-out jabs between characters. An inspired choice, the Organic Theaters 'The Lady From Dubuque' is directed by Ina Marlowe, who staged Albee's 'Tiny Alice' in 1990. She shows a clear affinity for the world Albee created for his characters and for the universal themes the play discusses.

A major strength in the Organic's Chicago Equity premiere of this play lies in the performances of its solid ensemble, which includes Kevin Kenneally (Fred), Leslie Charipar (Lucinda), Greg Kolack (Edgar), Farrel Wilson (Carol), Phillip Edward Van Lear (Oscar), and Lynnette Gaza (Elizabeth). The relationship that develops between Doylida and Gaza is particularly moving. With every touch or embrace, you can see the respite that Elizabeth brings to Jo. The actors portray full three-dimensional characters, clearly defined and unique. Gaza and Van Lear were particularly mesmerizing, each displaying an assured, confident, and serene presence.

Scenic designer Brenda Sabatka provides a set reminiscent of a suburban track home circa 197O's. The open wood staircase reminded me of the Brady Bunch. The track lighting, set decor, and carpeting also set the period effectively.

If you enjoy thought-provoking, intense human drama dealing with love, loss, and personal identity crises, then you are sure to enjoy Organic Theaters premiere of this Edward Albee treasure. Although you will be moved to tears, you will be reminded that people dealing with the loss of a loved one inevitably move on. You may also question yourself, "Who am I?"

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