The backstage drama of Edward Albee’s little-known one-act play

It’s not daily you get to see a manufacturing of an Edward Albee play that you simply’ve by no means learn or seen earlier than.

The unprepossessing title is “Fam and Yam,” which appears like one thing Samuel Beckett might need thought of and rejected for one among his minimalist creations. The piece isn’t included within the three-volume version of Albee’s collected performs. And till Pacific Resident Theatre’s “Albee/Beckett” invoice, I can’t keep in mind listening to something about it.

The Venice theater presents “Fam and Yam” as a curtain raiser for Harold Pinter’s extra substantial and stylistically assured “The Dumb Waiter.” These works don’t have a lot in frequent, apart from that they’re each two-handers from 1960 by absurdist playwrights carving out fiercly unbiased paths.

Directed by Pacific Resident Theatre’s inventive director, Marilyn Fox, “Fam and Yam” is extra of a sketch than a completely realized one-act. Albee, after all, was one of many masters of the brief type. “The Zoo Story,” maybe essentially the most well-known one-act of all time, launched his profession in 1959 and nonetheless retains an honored place alongside his larger-scale masterpieces, comparable to “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” “A Delicate Balance” and “Three Tall Women.”

The scenario of “Fam and Yam” shouldn’t be with out autobiographical curiosity. The play affords a snapshot of Albee, who died in 2016, as a rising younger playwright, a person of impeccable manners who’s nonetheless a decided revolutionary, hellbent on toppling the moribund theater institution.

After writing an ingratiating letter, Yam arrives at Fam’s deluxe East Aspect house, the form of place Yam associates with Joan Crawford and Susan Hayward motion pictures. Fam is prolific to a fault, some extent Yam references by means of point out of a Columbia College mental who considers Fam’s ease of output an indication of “commercial hackery.” (The professor in query is a thinly veiled model of famend critic Robert Brustein.)

Ready to be flattered, Fam finds himself anxiously refilling his sherry glass. He congratulates Yam on the success of his new off-Broadway play. What’s it referred to as once more? “Dilemma, Dereliction and Death,” Yam reminds him, additional mentioning that it opened 4 months in the past.

If Yam is clearly Albee and “Dilemma, Dereliction and Death” a wry substitute for “The Zoo Story,” who’s Fam? In his biography of Albee, Mel Gussow reveals that the profitable older dramatist is a surrogate for William Inge, the playwright who had a string of Broadway hits within the Fifties, together with “Come Back, Little Sheba,” “Picnic,” “Bus Stop” and “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,” all of which have been tailored into movies (thus the costly house, with its partitions coated in modern masterpieces).

Hoping for suggestions, Albee had despatched Inge a replica of “The Zoo Story” however obtained solely a courteously noncommittal reply. Thanks, however no thanks. One technology was not particularly wanting to make room for the subsequent. However Albee wasn’t simply deterred. He went to Inge’s house, taking within the ostentatious affluence of a author who could have himself realized that his peak was already behind him.

Gussow calls “Fam and Yam” a “malicious spoof” of this real-life encounter. The battle between the previous guard and the avant-garde is heightened within the play after Yam explains the explanation for his go to. He’s writing an article on the state of the American theater, in search of a hero to extol however much more wanting to name out these “villains” who’re holding progress again.

This record of these to be indicted consists of theater homeowners, producers, backers, unions, critics, administrators and, sure, playwrights too. Nobody appears to be secure from Yam’s fanatical fury, which Albee sends up, parodying the militant excesses of the brand new wave he was serving to to guide.

“That… that doesn’t… that doesn’t leave much for a hero, does it?” the milquetoast Fam nervously remarks. He’s by no means happy on the concept of being put out to pasture by a man with a faddish geometric haircut.

Albee caricatures the foppishly professorial Fam as sniveling, ingratiating and insincere. Even his tittering snort (in Brad Greenquist’s efficiency) is disingenuous. A creature of social affectation, he’s misplaced contact with any inventive authenticity he may as soon as have possessed.

However Albee doesn’t let Yam off the hook, both. The character performs the courtier, however the compliments he dispenses are transparently phony. Yam realizes that he’s on the way in which up and that Fam is on the way in which down. And since Fam gained’t supply him a serving to hand, Yam is more than pleased to provide him a very good push. Jason Downs’ portrayal captures the passive nature of Yam’s aggression.

The play doesn’t go to nice lengths to cover its real-life fashions. Yam consists of Fam in a bunch of playwrights that features Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder and, final however not least, Inge. Fam feedback on the feisty new technology that features Jack Gelber, Jack Richardson, Arthur Kopit and, after all, Albee.

Inge and Albee, the culminating names on this record, are preceded by ironic shrugs — a lifeless giveaway. However Albee by no means wrote a play during which expertise wasn’t reworked into artwork. Straight biography was beneath him, but his work nonetheless reveals points of his life.

So why did “Fam and Yam” kind of disappear? I requested representatives of the Albee property why the work was ignored of the Overlook Duckworth three-volume assortment of performs. The response had a wonderfully crisp Albee-esque opacity: “Edward made his (very careful) editorial decisions at the time Overlook was creating these books and we suppose this was one of them. There are other small pieces and fragments not included in the anthology.”

I couldn’t assist questioning whether or not the exclusion of “Fam and Yam” might need had one thing to do with what occurred to Inge, whose tragic suicide in Los Angeles in 1973 adopted the free fall of his once-glittering profession. Gussow reviews in his 1999 biography that Inge was livid after the journal publication of “Fam and Yam” in 1960.

In a letter to composer Ned Rorem, Inge wrote, “Don’t become famous all of a sudden and turn around and write nasty pieces about me like your dirty little friend Edward Albee, in Harper’s Bazaar. It’s a piece that should bring him a great deal of embarrassment in time to come. God, what a smug little creature he must be, to write as though perfectly assured about his own future prestige.”

Lengthy after “Fam and Yam’s” 1960 premiere, Albee included it in a touring invoice of one-acts he directed himself referred to as “Albee Directs Albee.” The manufacturing, a marathon that stretched over three evenings, got here to Los Angeles in 1978.

If Albee felt the work was unfair to Inge, it’s uncertain he would have chosen to stage a revised model of the play within the metropolis the place Inge had died just some years earlier. Maybe Gussow’s biography subsequently modified Albee’s thoughts, however there’s in all probability a less complicated motive for the play’s fade into obscurity.

“Fam and Yam” is a minor work in the way in which that his greatest one-acts (“The Zoo Story,” “The Sandbox,” “The American Dream”) will not be. In her assessment of the 1978 manufacturing, Occasions theater critic Sylvie Drake identifies “Fam and Yam” because the weak hyperlink in “Albee Directs Albee,” calling the playlet “the slenderest of self-jibes” and a “threadbare spoof.”

This verdict holds up in 2022. The manufacturing at Pacific Resident Theatre is extra of a historic curiosity than a satisfying theatrical discovery. Nevertheless it nonetheless makes for an intriguing appetizer for a predominant course of Pinter.

“The Dumb Waiter,” co-directed by Elina de Santos and Fox, doesn’t disappoint. Downs (who’s doing double obligation) and Anthony Foux have the Pinter-esque menace down pat. And it’s nice to see actors immersing themselves within the cryptically exact language of two artists who have been ushering in new kinds of playwriting that may endlessly change how characters converse and act onstage.

‘Albee/Pinter’: ‘Fam and Yam’ and ‘The Dumb Waiter’

The place: Pacific Resident Theatre, 705½ Venice Blvd., Venice
When: Runs by means of Dec. 17. (Examine theater web site for schedules and doable extension)
Value: Begin at $25
Information: (310) 822-8392 or pacificresidenttheatre.org/albee-pinter
Operating time: 1 hour, 20 minutes