The Lady from Dubuque, Organic Theater Company. Edward Albee's writing in the first act of this play crackles, and Ina Marlowe's direction of the act may be her strongest work ever. But it all falls apart in act two. Albee hasn't made things easy, turning his naturalistic comedy drama--about the impact of a woman's dying on her husband and friends--abruptly surreal with the title character's entrance. If the lady, Elizabeth, is the mother of the dying woman, Jo, why is husband Sam terrified by her arrival? If she's not, why does everyone welcome her and turn on Sam?
For the act to work, Elizabeth must be simultaneously irresistible and menacing--as though she'd been written by Pinter instead of Albee. But Marlowe directs the comic text instead of the threatening subtext and has the charming Lynnette Gaza play Elizabeth as merely annoyingly self-assured, a sort of mad Mary Poppins for the dying. Marlowe similarly flattens the ambiguity of Elizabeth's mysterious companion: Phillip Edward Van Lear gives him such elegance that the others' fear of him seems ludicrous rather than charged equally by their racism and his actual threat. Disrupted by the two new characters, the subtle first-act performances deteriorate into whining or shouting, further confusing Albee's already obscure conclusion. Rohanna S. Doylida fares best: she appears so little in act two that nothing mars her perfect rendition of Jo's rage, terror, and resignation at facing premature death.