Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Theater review: 'Three Tall Women' shows off Albee in top form

Angie Radosh,‭ ‬Geneva Rae and Beth Dixon
in Three Tall Women.

By Hap Erstein

He has never actually been to Palm Beach Dramaworks‭’ ‬West Palm Beach theater,‭ ‬but with five of his plays produced there,‭ ‬Edward Albee is the company’s unofficial resident playwright.

It might have been more in keeping with the troupe’s mission of presenting worthy,‭ ‬but neglected scripts had Dramaworks reached back for a less-seen Albee play like‭ ‬Tiny Alice or‭ ‬All Over,‭ ‬but in its continuing consideration of his work,‭ ‬the‭ ‬1994‭ ‬Pulitzer Prize-winning‭ ‬Three Tall Women‭ ‬--‭ ‬the third Pulitzer for the generally acknowledged greatest living American playwright‭ ‬--‭ ‬will certainly suffice.

In a crisply performed production that J.‭ ‬Barry Lewis stages with admirable clarity and simplicity,‭ ‬we eavesdrop as Albee paints an acid-dipped portrait of his adoptive mother.‭ ‬Elements of her have appeared in other plays of his,‭ ‬but never so directly as in this character sketch of a‭ ‬92-year-old woman of privilege,‭ ‬consumed by bitterness,‭ ‬succumbing to the ravages of a stroke and ultimately accepting the release of death.

Both acts of‭ ‬Three Tall Women contain Albee’s exacting word choices and hyper-articulate dialogue,‭ ‬but are otherwise quite different.‭ ‬The first act is a largely naturalistic exchange among the aged matriarch‭ (‬Beth Dixon‭)‬,‭ ‬her wily,‭ ‬but subservient middle-aged caregiver‭ (‬Angie Radosh‭)‬,‭ ‬and a young emissary of the old woman’s lawyer‭ (‬Geneva Rae‭)‬.‭ ‬At the old woman’s affluent,‭ ‬austere home to help sort out some financial matters,‭ ‬the young underling cannot resist some verbal sniping over the client’s racial epithets and general dismissive attitude.

The act ends with the old woman’s stroke and,‭ ‬after intermission,‭ ‬she is seen lying motionless in bed while the three actresses inhabit the room,‭ ‬representing aspects of her at three distinct ages of her life‭ ‬--‭ ‬26,‭ ‬52‭ ‬and‭ ‬92.‭ ‬That may take a few minutes to adjust to,‭ ‬but it seems to come into focus more easily than it did in the national tour of the play’s original off-Broadway production.‭ ‬Or maybe that is just a consequence of time and familiarity with the material.

Certainly the Dramaworks cast deserves some of the credit for the play’s current impact.‭ ‬Dixon plays the old woman with her hard edges intact,‭ ‬dominating the production in the same way that her character does.‭ ‬If we keep in mind that this is Albee’s recollection of his mother,‭ ‬he has not mellowed in his opinion of her.

As her nurse,‭ ‬Radosh handles the character’s duties capably,‭ ‬trying to placate the perpetually cranky woman and acting protectively of her against the sniping of the young visitor.‭ ‬Rae is a bit starchy in the early going,‭ ‬but comes across better in the second act as the young woman appalled that she will become the two soured souls she sees in front of her.‭ ‬Also in the cast is Chris Marks as a preppy young,‭ ‬mute stand-in for Albee,‭ ‬an important presence but a fairly thankless acting assignment.‭

Three Tall Women represents one of Albee’s several career comebacks,‭ ‬a late work that shows him at his full powers.‭ ‬Ultimately,‭ ‬it is full of the wisdom of age,‭ ‬with an emotional range from bitterness to acceptance.‭ ‬Unlike‭ ‬Seascape,‭ ‬it deserves its Pulitzer and its place on Albee’s top shelf,‭ ‬as evidenced by Dramaworks‭’ ‬first-rate production.

THREE TALL WOMEN,‬Palm Beach Dramaworks,‭ ‬322‭ ‬Banyan Blvd.,‭ ‬West Palm Beach.‭ ‬Through June‭ ‬13.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$42-$44.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬561‭) ‬514-4042.

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