Death has no mercy

The Lady from Dubuque

As Jo and Sam, Jennifer Crenshaw and Bradford Ka’ai’ai deal with bitterness and death in <i>The Lady from Dubuque</i>.

As Jo and Sam, Jennifer Crenshaw and Bradford Ka’ai’ai deal with bitterness and death in The Lady from Dubuque.

Photo By David Robert

Rated 2.0

The Lady from Dubuque, a play by Edward Albee, opened on Broadway on Jan. 31, 1980. It closed there after 12 performances. I can see why.

Even with the direction of Dr. Bob Dillard for this Nevada Repertory Company production, there was no saving the audience from the disastrous effects inflicted upon them by the plot of this play. It starts out in a seemingly normal suburban household, where a group of three couples are playing Twenty Questions. Soon, they begin to talk directly to the audience—maybe to see if we’re all still awake.

Jo, played by Jennifer Crenshaw, makes it abundantly clear that she is dying of a terminal illness, which makes her bitter and cruel toward everyone in the room. She starts fights between everyone. I felt like an outsider in a room full of people who hate each other. I sat there uncomfortably the entire first act, waiting for one character to say something mean to another.

This, however, is in no part the fault of the actors; presumably this is the feeling Albee intended to invoke. Jo’s husband, Sam, played by Bradford D. Ka’ai’ai, presents himself as a man torn between the love he has for his wife and his inability to accommodate her needs. He is strong and sensitive. Edgar, played by John S. Simpson, also does a good job of playing the nice-guy role. He knows when to draw the line, holding back when he needs to and letting everything fly when he suddenly refuses to be the nice guy and forces Jo to apologize to his wife, Lucinda (April Grenot).

Fred, played by Ryan Palomo, on the other hand, does a weaker job of portraying the picture of masculinity. He’s supposed to be the “tough guy” but does so by being off on his timing and employing a bad Southern accent. It is entirely unbelievable. People are supposed to believe this character has been married several times, but he is in no way charming.

The most interesting characters are Oscar, played by Ben Onyx Dowdy, and Elizabeth, played by Sheryl Adams. Dressed in black, they represent death coming for Jo. The second act focuses on them. Granted, they have the most interesting lines, but, in my opinion, they also play their roles the best. They were each on cue every time, and their witty repartee was seamless. When they were speaking to each other, the audience reacted to them as if it was awakened from the soporific effects of the first act. Oscar and Elizabeth were the comic relief of the play, making the pain and drama of Sam and Jo easier to deal with. But I think if they’d been cast in any other roles, they would have played them just as well.

All in all, Edward Albee wrote a terrible play that couldn’t have been saved if Martin Scorsese had directed it. Most of the actors played their parts well, but Dowdy and Adams really stood out. These two actors almost made the play worth sitting through.