The American Dream

Mommy and Daddy sit in a barren living room making small talk. Mommy, the domineering wife, is grappling with the thought of putting Grandma in a nursing home. Daddy, the long-suffering husband, could not care less. Grandma appears, lugging boxes of belongings, which she stacks by the door. Mommy and Daddy can’t imagine what’s in those boxes, but Grandma is well aware of Mommy’s possible intentions. Mrs. Barker, the chairman of the women’s club, arrives, not knowing why she is there. Is she there to take Grandma away? Apparently not. It all becomes evident when Grandma reveals to Mrs. Barker the story of the botched adoption of a “bumble of joy” twenty years ago by Mommy and Daddy. Mrs. Barker appears to have figured it out when Young Man enters. He’s muscular, well-spoken, the answer to Mommy and Daddy’s prayers: The American Dream.

In the preface to one publication of The American Dream, Albee explains the content of the play:

The play is an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, emasculation and vacuity; it is a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen.

Is the play offensive? I certainly hope so; it was my intention to offend – as well as amuse and entertain. Is it nihilist, immoral, defeatist? Well, to that let me answer that The American Dream is a picture of our time – as I see it, of course. Every honest work is a personal, private yowl, a statement of one individual’s pleasure or pain; but I hope that The American Dream is something more than that. I hope that it transcends the personal and the private, and has something to do with the anguish of us all.

Albee, Edward. Preface. The American Dream and The Zoo Story. New York: Penguin, 1997. 53-54.

Type: Short Play

Acts: One

First Performance: 24 January 1961, York Playhouse, New York

Awards: Best Plays of the 1960-1961 Season, Foreign Press Association, 1961. Lola D’Annunzio Award, 1961.

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