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Albee at the EXIT 

Michael Murdock, Heather Petersteiner, Bryce Campos, Sally L'Herogan and Kimberly Mallett Alvarez in The American Dream

Photo by John Heckel, submitted

Michael Murdock, Heather Petersteiner, Bryce Campos, Sally L'Herogan and Kimberly Mallett Alvarez in The American Dream

I have never liked Edward Albee's The American Dream, not as a part of my script analysis classes, nor in the multiple productions that I've seen performed. I find it to be shrouded with intellectual commentary and unfollowable simile that leaves the audience wondering what the hell is actually happening. Yet, I am still drawn to it. Perhaps it is an id-feeding desire to engage in intellectual conversations with the post-production audience who seek answers for the experience, or just to laugh at the confusion. Either way, it is a piece of theater that still baffles like an absurdist, unsolvable mystery that will be revisited but remain unresolved.  

Director John Heckel's approach at EXIT Theatre does not offer the audience a clear commentary on their view of the script. Instead, they present a perfectly imperfect scene in an unremarkable '50s apartment with their characters Daddy (Michael Murdock), Mommy (Heather Petersteiner) and Grandma (Sally L'Herogan) that allows Albee's masterful scriptwriting to drive the one-act play. Like many of Albee's works, it is a snippet of suspended time in everyday life where the audience intuits the plot as opposed to being force-fed a narrative, soliloquy or disposition. In this piece however, Albee relies too much on his personal commentary and loses the nuanced plot development that he is famous for in other works. What is it about? A mystery of Grandma's boxes? Mommy and Daddy's invitation for Mrs. Barker (Kimberly Mallett Alvarez)? The Young Man (Bryce Campos) who will do anything for money? A particularly gruesome act to a "bumble of joy"? It is about the underlying darkness hidden in the societal ideal of the American family, though the work done to arrive at that this conclusion makes it questionable. Perhaps if it was presented absurdly or caricatured or surreal, it would make more sense. Still, Heckel stays true to the author's intent and directs from Albee's perspective, however confusing. I suggest the audience see everything as a metaphor for the author to soapbox and try not to piece together the action.  

As challenging as all that, Heckel's cast is mesmerizing. They present themselves as exactly who they are and don't overreach for comedy or drama. I would have liked to see some of the actors ground themselves in an emotional base with their chest voice as opposed to the stereotypical falsetto Lucy voice that disengages their bodies, but it is still an appropriate choice. The entire cast exudes a calm power as the smaller space allows for more intimate conversation that still embodies big energy. On the evening I attended, intermission was filled with conversations rooting for the cast, as we wanted to love the play as much as the performances.  

Heckel pairs the one act with another, The Zoo Story, which focuses on two strangers having a conversation in New York's Central Park and is outstanding. Larry Crist as Jerry walks from the zoo to a park bench and engages Michael Murdock as Peter. This piece is a technical actor's dream: The script is dripping with exact locations and story that allow for an actor to step into the being of their characters, as both do expertly. They draw the audience in by seeing the surroundings and circumstances they describe. While Larry tells the story of a dog, Peter looks down and vividly sees it, which makes the audience hang on every word. As good as Crist is in his long monologues and character development, Murdock does not get lost in the action with simple and real active listening that is so often overplayed by less experienced actors. It is a gorgeous piece of theater that deserves to be seen. 

The Albee pairing of one-acts is for theater nerds and dramaturgy. Both are challenging pieces that the EXIT Theater loves producing. Both are well done, conversation-inducing intellectual candy. Go spend a couple hours in the theater to have a lifetime of conversation about them.  

EXIT Theatre presents The American Dream and Zoo Story Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 3 p.m. through May 19. Tickets at the door or email [email protected] to reserve.

Tiggerbouncer Custodio (he/she/they) is an empowered queer Indigenous Filipino artist whose works have been seen on Humboldt stages and elsewhere.


Redwood Curtain Theatre presents A New Brain, a drama about a composer facing mortality, at the 5th and D Street Theater May 17 through June 9. Call (707) 442-6278 or visit

Ferndale Repertory Theatre invites you to The Prom, a musical comedy about Broadway stars descending on a small-town prom. Performances run May 24 through June 16. Call (707) 786-5483 or visit

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