The Lady from Dubuque, a play by Edward Albee, opened on Broadway at the Morosco Theatre on January 31, 1980. It closed there after a mere 12 performances.
This production, directed by Alan Schneider (in what would prove to be the last not only of his many Albee premieres but also of his work on Broadway at all), starred Albee favorite Irene Worth (who had originated leading roles in his plays Tiny Alice, Counting the Ways and Listening) and veteran Earle Hyman (who would later appear in the world premiere production of Albee's The Play about the Baby) alongside a youthful cast headed by Broadway debutante Frances Conroy alongside costars such as Maureen Anderman (who had appeared in Albee's 1975 play Seascape and the 1976 revival of his Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which he also directed), Tony Musante and Celia Weston. Despite the play's short run, it won Featured Tony nominations for Miss Anderman and Mr. Hyman.
The play's first act finds three young couples (Sam + Jo hosting Fred + Carol and Lucinda + Edgar) engaging in party games like Twenty Questions. Jo's angry bitterness becomes apparent earlier than its source, which is the terminal disease that tortures her and will soon claim her life. At the end of the act, after the mounting tension drives the guests to leave, Sam carries Jo up to bed. Suddenly, a fourth couple appears from the wings: a glamorous older woman (Elizabeth) and her black companion (Oscar). She asks the audience, "Are we in time? Is this the place?" and answers her own questions: "Yes, we are in time. This is the place." The curtain falls.
In Act One, the recurrent theme of the game was "Who are you?" Now that question becomes more serious, as Sam, shocked by the appearance of these strangers in his house, repeatedly demands that Elizabeth reveal her identity. She eventually insists that she is Jo's mother (whom Jo had always described her mother as a quiet, unsophisticated woman from Dubuque), a fact Jo never confirms or denies. Whoever she and Oscar may -- or may not -- be, they clearly represent the coming of Death, something familiar and unknown. At the end of the play, Oscar carries the dying Jo upstairs one last time. As the devastated Sam demands once more to learn Elizabeth's true identity, she ends the play with this line: "Why, I'm the lady from Dubuque. I thought you knew. [to the audience] I thought he knew."
Elizabeth's curtain lines, quoted above, both typify the Pirandellian style of the play's dialogue, in which characters frequently make comments directly to the audience. (The first occurs very early, when Jo, observing the Twenty Questions game in progress, looks out at the audience and asks, "Don't you hate party games?")