Into the Arts - "The American Dream"

Mike Foster

The American Dream

By Edward Albee.

Directed by Doug Day

ICC Performing Arts Center

Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 20-22, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 23, 2:30 p.m.

$7; students & seniors, $5

From its stunning opening, Joe Royer’s devastating video montage of American history from the Founding Fathers to Iraq, synchronized so that every image changes to the beat of Charlie Watts’ drums and the syllables of Mick Jagger’s snarled vocal of the iconic Rolling Stones 1965 hit “Satisfaction,” to its curtain call 75 minutes later, ICC’s production of this dark, topical 1959 Albee comedy is one of the college’s best theater productions in years.

Superb performances by the three young actresses and two actors drive forward Albee’s dark vision of the American Dream: sex and money and more money and more sex.  Oh, and some guns, too.

Michelle Cecil’s black, white, grey and scarlet costume design harmonizes perfectly with Travis Olson’s stark set — two minimalist chairs and one sofa, all white and black, one end table with nine bottles of pills for Daddy, and the jumble of blood-red and blue gift-wrapped presents. 

As Daddy, Jacob Uhlman is an effete, acerbic, thin counterbalance to the buxom, zaftig, sensual Mommy. His bright red ascot is set off by his black and white Oriental smoking jacket while her low-cut leopard-skin print satin blouse is set off by her scarlet high heels, tight black Capri slacks, and Rubensesque decolletage.   

Sarah McCabe earns the most laughs — and there are many — as the doddering but razor-sharp Grandma. Her prune-like frown and droll putdowns of both Mommy and Daddy (and it’s an ambiguity whose mother she is at first) nearly steal the show, and would indeed were not the other four characters so strikingly depicted.  When McCabe re-entered with the others for the post-show discussion, audience members were stunned by the transformation of this attractive young actress — this is only her second ICC show — into the wry old crone she plays.

The coolly sexy and haughtily remote Helen Rose Brown, who plays Mrs. Barker, also nearly hijacks the play herself when, after an exchange of mindless social pleasantries with Daddy (“Want a cigarette?  Want a drink? Want to undress?”) she strips off her businesslike white blouse, black skirt, and wide bright-red belt and plays the rest of the show clad only in a slinky, lacy black silk slip, black spike high heels, and a fetching black garter than conceals a wee pistol high on her thigh.

As with Albee’s most famous play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” this play includes a mysterious lost — maybe truly, maybe fictitious — son, who is the last to appear, the husky, strapping blond Young Man (AKA The American Dream). 

Clad in black, white and grey military camouflage with combat boots, Zachary Gittrich (his surname is all too apt) would seem like a brainless stud. Certainly that’s what Grandma, Mommy, and Mrs. Barker have in mind, and he seems willing and eager to service each of them. Even Daddy recoils in homophobic horror.

But Young Man is much more than that. When he doffs his camo jacket to reveal a starburst of blood-red on his tee-shirt over his heart, he reveals a pathos that is the play’s emotional climax. He becomes every man and woman who has died, from the Boston Massacre to Bull Run to Baghdad, sacrificed to the American Dream.

Albee wrote this in 1959, but a half-century later, it is still younger than yesterday.

Six years before the Stones topped the American charts with their first number-one hit, their ode to frustrated avarice, materialism, and lust, the play’s lines read like they could’ve been written as inspired by “Satisfaction.”

ICC’s theater program has had many wonderful moments over the past 35 years, from Don Marine’s brooding productions of House of Blue Leaves and Under Milk Wood to Robin Berkley’s hilarious condensed William Shakespeare spoof only a few years ago.

But Doug Day enters that pantheon of productions with this, certainly his greatest moment as a director. He has assured himself and this cast and crew of a place in the honor roll of the many great faculty directors and student actors who have enriched the community.

Reserve tickets; get there early—the intimate theater seats only 70 and was nearly sold out Wednesday night. Be ready to laugh a lot, lust a bit, and hurt a little.

Don’t miss this one.