Court Theatre’s rendition of Edward Albee’s semi-autobiography, Three Tall Women was stupendous in every way. I couldn’t help but put my pen to the paper as soon as I got home. What I most appreciated about this play was the natural blending of serious and deep circumstances mixed with light humor. It gave the play an aura of truth. Simple yet dignified, well choreographed and arranged, and with sensational acting to boot, I give this machismo bravado! As Edward Albee’s most personal piece and autobiographic in nature, Director Charles Newell carries out a well-manicured, simple piece that allows the audience to focus on what memories we as humans remember most in life and how we change our perspective on life over time.
As with many other Edward Albee plays, the script of Three Tall Women is incredibly wordy (almost overly excessively) and combines realistic scenarios with imagined states of being, ultimately creating a pseudo-reality. Because of the heavy amounts of dialogue that touch a variety of subjects on both a casual and deep level, there were times when I lost focus. With highly skilled acting, however, it did not take me long to re-enter the world of Edward Albee, and I ultimately came away with a clear understanding of the messages the play was trying to convey despite not listening to every single word. I also found the quick dialogue between the three characters, barely giving for a moment’s rest, to effectively carry the play forward and to be true to Albee’s notorious writing style. His play is interesting and almost psychedelic in that the two acts diverge greatly though the characters appear to be the same from one act to the other. The first act is highly realistic-a young attorney, a loving caretaker, and an old woman approaching the end are all stuck in the same room together. In the second act, however, these three women become the same person (that of the elderly woman, Woman A). This slight change within the script created just the right blend of confusion and curiosity to capture my interests and employ the interpretive part of mind.
I found the play’s rendition of the three women portraying three different generations fit in well with my own experiences with age. The terse, impatient, more stoic young woman ( Maura Kidwell), the more empathetic, giving, patient middle aged woman ( Mary Beth Fisher), and the losing-it, clueless, charismatic elderly woman ( Lois Markle) mimicked almost precisely the family scenes I have observed with my own mother and grandmother. The very different behaviors each generation defines thus adds to the humor and intrigue in the situation in which all three are stuck together in the same room. A younger generation interested in getting things done and wasting no time, a middle aged generation more aware of the delicateness of life and more concerned for older generations (for they know their turn will come soon enough), and an old-age generation reminiscing on life and responding to those memories with genuine and spontaneous feeling were compelling in their portrayal at The Court Theater. Thus, in accordance with my own experiences with the process of aging through life, it is meaningful to see this reflected in the play, allowing audience members like myself to connect and relate to the experiences on stage.
Mary Beth Fischer (Woman B) is simply fantastic. She is so natural on stage that you don’t even realize she is acting---she becomes the character she plays in such an effortless way that you can’t help but be astounded by her talent. Every move she makes, whether it be to tenderly lift A from the chair, lay on the floor to relax and listen, or saunter around the bedroom pensively, she does so with an air of naturalness. Her tone of voice and intonations are also distinct, giving her character a unique flavor.
Lois Markle (Woman A) is also flawless. As the oldest of the three women in the play and the most experienced (for she has lived through every generation), she treks through perhaps the widest range of emotions of the three women. She transports herself from moments of wit and humor to moments of pensiveness, and then to moments of sadness and despair with such grace that she always appears to be a living, breathing human being. The human mind often follows such trails, and so each shiftl in A’s life and in her stories seemed incredibly genuine and true. Her spontaneous sobs in between memories were heartfelt and elicited empathy from audience members; we were able to feel the pain she felt at recalling some of her memories and at the disappointment she felt in forgetting them. Much of her humor came from her political incorrectness and inability to censor herself, as is often typical of many older generations of men and women.
Maura Kidwell (Woman C) aptly plays the part of a younger woman--- naïve about the future, interested in carrying out tasks, and uninterested in nonsense. Woman A aptly remarks to Woman C “You don’t take anything funny.” Though possessing a staid personality, she responds to her changing circumstances with more alertness and vitality than the other two women. Her personality and emotions thus go through more waves than her older counterparts . While not quite as outstanding as the other two women, who have had many more years of acting experience, Kidwell plays the part with energy and focus. There were times in the second act, however, when I questioned her genuineness. As she slowly learns more about her future and tries at great length to stop the older women from divulging too much information to her, she becomes ecstatic and her inner emotions translate throughout her body. She runs around frantically, covers her ears with great passion, but quickly subsides and rather abruptly relaxes. I found these highly unstable emotional outbreaks to be somewhat less than genuine, and I did not always follow the reason that she became so incredibly enraptured one minute and then so relaxed the next.
On a pure acting level, the three woman were able to effectively contrast their generational differences in a meaningful and tangible way. Woman A’s stiffness and sluggish amble contrasts with Woman B’s more fit nature and her exploration of all levels of the space on stage. Both character’s contrasts even more with Woman C’s extreme energy and purposeful prancing around on stage. C responds to changing circumstances with more alertness and nimbleness, and this is also reflected in her larger facial expressions. Thus my own perceptions of how different generations should behave were well mimicked by the play.
Aesthetically, the production was executed by Newell simply but with great poignancy. Each silhouette employed by the director, while giving dramatic effect, also clearly had a meaning behind it. The way the show began with the three women fixed in distinct areas of the stage allowed the audience to mentally divide their varying personas from each other. The relationship between these three women evolves dramatically throughout the play, eventually resulting in the understanding that they are one single woman. Because of this, the play aptly ends with the three women boldly taking center stage together, perhaps to elucidate the fact that by the end, the three woman are part of a shared experience and no longer can be divided by their distinct frames of reference. Additionally, the end of the first act with Woman A on her bed, stiff and still from stroke was so piercing and almost frightful, especially because she remained there immobile even as the house lights turned on and the play transitioned to intermission. The play’s effect did not fully escape my mind, thus keeping me immersed in what I saw for the entire duration of my time at the Court Theatre.
The presence in the second act of The Boy ( Joel Gross), who enters to visit his elderly and stroke-ridden mother, Woman A, allows us to consider how relationships we foster change over time. Estranged from a young age, The Boy only reenters his mother’s life when she is old and dying. As a result, we are able to see how divergently Woman B and Woman A respond to The Boy’s presence---B feeling hurt, anger, and resentment that her son left her, and C feeling more understanding and desire to finally reconnect before she dies. Woman C is both curious and fearful, for she is seeing the future she has not had being laid out in front of her. Ultimately, we see that our attachments to people close to us change over time and that the amount of time we are given to recover and distance ourselves from a poignant circumstance will be reflected in our emotional attachments to it. Because the memory is not in the far off distance to Woman B, she is still resentful and stays true to the feelings she initially possessed, whereas for Woman A, the passage of time has allowed her to forgive her son and welcome him back into her life. She has clearly thought back on her life and reflected on what she is willing to forgive and to forget.
All I can say is this play was a huge success and well worth the ticket!
Jan 13-Feb 13
Photos by Michael Brosilow
Published on Dec 31, 1969