The American Dream, Theatre S3, at Victory Gardens Theater. In 1961 Edward Albee’s one-act was dismissed as yet another dramatic sermon on social injustices in America: abuse of the young and of the elderly, wives’ domination of their weak husbands, the worship of shallow physical beauty, an egocentric preoccupation with material things. But nowadays, in light of the prevailing artistic preference for introspection and the author’s autobiographical revelations in 1994’s Three Tall Women, the play is more often dismissed as yet another study in dysfunctional family dynamics.
Director Victor D’Altorio refuses to bully his audience with easy agendas, however. His actors play their characters with straight faces at an unhurried pace, allowing the absurd text to suggest Albee’s criticism as Mommy and Daddy are dazzled by their icons–the seductive professional woman and the muscular American dream–and Mommy threatens to have feisty Grandma “carted away in a van” (Grandma’s first words to a handsome young gentleman caller are “Are you the van man?”).
Theatre S3’s debut production is unified enough that citation of individual performances is difficult, though Sondra Sellars makes a game and uncaricatured Grandma and Deborah Frieden as the professional woman deserves combat pay for spending most of her time onstage in her underwear. This fresh look at an American classic transcends facile interpretations to restore our sense of the play’s original insight and impact.
–Mary Shen Barnidge