Admirable Albee, powerful performances in Seattle Rep's
A 90-something grand dame, labeled only as A by the playwright, obviously stricken with Alzheimer's or dementia, or both, is attended to in her icy, elegant boudoir (a fine set design by Matthew Smucker, adroitly complimented by Allen Hahn's lighting design) by a tough but tender caretaker (B) and a brittle impatient lady lawyer (C) as she wafts out of the past and into the present, sometimes quite dramatically, recalling younger, though not always happier days. Felled by a stroke in act one, we return to her room after intermission and find the actresses have assumed the person of this one tall woman at different points in her life, as her fading figure lies in bed waiting its last breath of life. C (played by Alexandra Tavares) is a mid-twentyish prohibition era dolly, full of hopes and dreams, B (Suzanne Bouchard) the frustrated fiftyish wife trapped in a loveless marriage and having failed as a mother. A (Megan Cole) is the seventy-something, indomitable soul who has risen above the tragedies of her life, which she looks back upon ruefully but with scant bitterness. There is also a wordless visitor, a gay son (Nick Garrison) attending his mother's perhaps final act, obviously regretting the hollowness of their relationship.
Alexandra Tavares is far too brittle in act one as the unlikable lawyer, but has some fine moments in act two as the giddy young woman who can scantly believe or accept that her road of life will hit such bumps over the years. Bouchard is a warm presence as the paid but obviously caring companion to the demanding old lady, and successfully transitions into the disillusioned, caustic woman in the second half. Indeed, few Seattle actors play bitchy, brittle women of a certain age better than Bouchard. Ultimately though, Cole, herself a veteran of many Pacific NW stages, has the tour de force role, and one suspects she will perfect it during the run. That said, her opening night first act was marred by having to call for lines, being fed her, annoyingly, by an offstage prompter voice. There were so many wonderful moments as she portrayed the deteriorating A, that these interruptions grew more and more frustrating, as one is sure they were to the actress. Cole then delivered a regal, luminous, word perfect act two, taking the stage in a manner that most favorably calls to mind the great Marian Seldes (the original B in the premiere Off-Broadway production). And a nod is due as well to Nick Garrison as the son. The actor wordlessly conveys all the pain and regret of A's son, once again proving he is one of Seattle's keepsake thespians.
Director Narver can herself take a bow for a well-paced, deftly orchestrated production. It is one that I have no doubt will find a totally sure-footing, once the demons of line memorization are no longer an issue.
Three Tall Women runs Tuesday-Sunday through Nov. 28 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center; $12-$52 (206-443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org.)
See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.