Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Three Tall Women"

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note: entire contents copyright 2001 by Larry Stark

"Thre Tall Women"

by Edward Albee
Directed by David J. Miller

Scenic Design by David J. Miller
Costume Design by Nicole A. Monahan
Lighting Design by Kevin O'Shaughnessy
Stage Manager Anne Continelli

A.................................Jan Peterson
B..................................Miki Joseph
C..................................Jones Miller
The Young Man......Michael Ahearn

When I saw the Marion Seldes production of "Three Tall Women" at the Colonial, the play became an exercise of allowing the audience to watch one very selfish actress pretend she had learned something about being old.
For the new Zeitgeist Stage Company, Jan Peterson isn't pretending, nor is she ever, really, alone on stage. It's true that Act One is an extended, episodic, querulous memoir by an eighty-year old battle-axe, but she is the center of attention here because Miki Joseph her companion and Jones Miller the young secretary from her lawyer's office are always attending to her every whim --- even when pointedly ignoring her! Even in their long stretches of silence, there is dialogue between the three of them. And this is even more engrossing in Act Two, when these three women reveal themselves as the same person, at 26, at 52, and at 78, discussing what they've lived so far and what each thinks about the future of a life only one of them remembers completely. Zeitgeist's director David J. Miller has elicited luminously warm, selfless performances from each of his fondly forgiving women, and from the silent, enigmatically death-watching son (Michael Ahearn) who completes this excellent cast.

Edward Albee has long been cursed with initial productions of his new plays by people who "knew all the exaggerated subtexts this author needed to convey." This, however, is a production that takes the text's warm, edgy humanity and fond humor for granted and, from that bedrock orchestrates the music of first the trio then the quartet of one dying woman's life. Once someone, as Zeitgeist has, makes them people, all the Seldes' pomposities drop away, and it becomes a true theatrical masterpiece.

There is not a detail out of place here, from the effortless regroupings that keep the shallow bedroom space alive, to the art-deco handbag, pair of gloves, and framed photographs tucked away untouched on a stage-right desk, the purple glow of evening out two window-seats, and the horse-print framed on the wall to reflect all the talk about stables the old woman owned. The trio exchange frank confessions about marriage, sex, affairs, youth, age, and death --- each from a unique perspective along the time-line of a life. The trialogue of the second half comments and illuminates the monologue of the first, just as the silent son back after a twenty-year escape contemplates his mother's death with a meaning-filled silence. There is never an instant through the entire play that these people are not totally aware of themselves and each other --- and they play the audience's delighted responses with consummate command.

This is Albee at his best.


"Three Tall Women" (21 September - 13 October)
Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 426-2787

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide