Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The first act focuses on three unnamed women, noted only as A, B and C in the program, and is set in the bedroom of the 92-year-old A. She is a wealthy woman close to the end of her life who reminisces about her past in a series of reflective monologues which veer from passionate and humorous remembrances to ugly and bitter insults aimed at her loved ones and people in her past. They are also an eye opener into her racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic views. Her kind and compassionate 52-year-old caretaker B assists her while the 26-year-old C, sent from A's lawyer to take care of some outstanding legal and financial items, tries to make sense of A's rambling and sometimes uncomfortable stories. At one moment C says, "Is it always like this?" and B replies, "No, it's often quite pleasant."
Act two finds the three women transformed into A at three ages in her life that correspond to the ages of the three characters in the first act. While act one is made up of mostly incoherent ramblings, the second act is full of clarity as it fills in the gaps in the stories we heard in the first act. The 92-year-old A is also now a calm presence, assumedly having finally made peace with her life. The 52-year-old version is an angry individual since she's closer to the pain of the events the character has recently experienced. The younger A finds the hope she thought she had for her future is now completely shaken by what she learns her life will become from the two older versions of herself, claiming that she will never become one of the other two.
Albee has beautifully crafted Three Tall Women to depict not only a woman at the end of her life looking back and coming to terms with her actions but also to show how Albee is using his play to try to understand his own mother while also not entirely forgiving her. That also mirrors A's actions in act two toward her husband and the pain his affairs had on her and the fact that her son didn't turn out to be what she'd hope him to be, which caused them to be estranged. The play shows a path of maybe not forgiveness, but understanding for the playwright and for the character of A. Also, the way it uses a very moving, yet quite simple, theatrical device to show the three different ages of A having a conversation with each other to peel away at the layers of the women to reveal the truth in her life is stunning.
All three actresses under Christopher Haines' concise direction deliver superb portrayals. Susan St. John is excellent as the elder A. We clearly see how A is proud and firm yet demanding with St. John's confident expressions depicting the lapses in memory that make her flustered and confused when moments of senility set in. St. John's steely portrayal in act one lets us see how A is completely unapologetic in her views and remembrances, even though there are many that are laced with guilt. Yet, when A reminisces about a particularly happy moment in her past, St. John's eyes sparkle and her demeanor changes to that of a young girl. In act two, when her memories of shame and regret come to light, we also witness the pain of those moments in St. John's beautifully nuanced performance.
Marlene Galan-Woods and Kristina Rogers are equally as good as B and C, respectively. In act one, Galan-Woods' relaxed demeanor lets us see how she is comfortable in her position as the old woman's caring and mostly well-meaning caretaker, but in the second act the gloves are all off as bitterness and betrayal set in and her performance becomes one full of rage and pain. We clearly see the hurt A feels in Galan-Woods' poised and direct performance. Rogers perfectly delivers panicked expressions to depict fear when she looks at the woman she will become and how her life will play out in outright horror. From her realistic performance the audience can feel for her disbelief in seeing the hateful woman she will become.
Like anyone who has had parents who don't accept them or understand their actions, Albee may not show complete forgiveness for his mother in Three Tall Women for the pain she caused him, but his play beautifully depicts how he tried to understand her beliefs, actions and thoughts. It is also a powerful portrait of how the 90-year-old version of his mother also tries to do the same in the second act when her life is over and she looks back at the negative impact of her own actions. With an excellent cast and confident direction, iTheatre Collaborative's production of Albee's beautiful play is exceptional.
Three Tall Women runs through November 2, 2017, at iTheatre Collaborative, Herberger Theater Center, 222 E Monroe St, Phoenix AZ. For ticket and information, visit www.itheatreaz.org.
Written by Edward Albee