HOUSTON VOICE / MARCH 3, 1995
'Three Tall Women' stands tall
over other area productions
By JAVIER TAMEZ
In the preface to "Three Tall Women,"
playwright Edward Albee states thai he
warned io write a play about the death of his
long-estranged, adoptive mother
because he was "touched by the survivor, the figure clinging to the wreckage
only partly ol her own making, refusing
to go under."
His poignant and deeply pe
account of ihis woman and the stock she
takes of her own life is a masterful piece
of work thai richly deserves its Pulitzer
Prize honor and the Alley bonchos, who
pulled oft something of a theatrical
coup in bringing the play to Houston for
its first production outside of New
York or London, should be similarly
Part of the play's strength comes from
Albee':; brilliant Structure. In the first
act. three women, labeled only as A (Nan
Martin). B (Kaihleen Butler) and C
(Tracy Sallows) seem caught in a pointless and constantly changing conversation. A is a querulous, 92-year old
dowager waging unceasing war
against ihe afflictions of old age—senility, incontinence and physiological
decay. B is a 52-year old companion,
nurse and secretary with a complacent, care-worn presence. C is 26. intelligent, ambitious and an attorney wilh a
law linn handling A's affairs.
Beyond the obvious personality
traits of the characters on stage, nothing is learned. The dialogue is an endless
repetition of A's cantankerous complaints, C's impatient and cynical
responses, and B's soothing assurances to the former and gentle admonitions to the latter. The plot, as is typical
of so many of Albee's works, is aimless
and rudderless. Then, quite suddenly,
though not altogether unexpectedly, A
suffers a stroke, and Act 1 ends
When Act II opens. A's *nen body -jcs Q0
the bed. an oxygen mask in place, while B
and C stand vigil, discussing death and
the absence of a living will. Surprisingly A enters the scene, striding zont\
dently, appearing resplendent. She
looks directly at her likeness on the bed
before her, and with one simple statement reveals the stunning transformation that has taken place on stage.
"We're just as we were "
The meaning is unmistakable While
A has become a vibrant manifestation
of herself at the same age, B and C have
become A at earlier stages of her life!
(It's an absolutely beautiful move on
A is now completely rational and coher
ent and begins a wistful recollection of
times past, joined with reflective repose
by B, while C waxes both curiously and
anxiously. The memories become
darker and the figures of the one woman's
life begin to clash—a development sel
further in motion by the arrival of the boy.
The boy is a young man: he never speaks.
He just sits at the bedside in a silent display of devotion, and it is here that Albee
has thrust himself onto the stage.
B is furious over his presence, at one
poini streaming at him to leave. Though A
asks for tolerance and forgiveness,
and C is utterly captivated by the son she
does noi yet know, B remains unmoved.
"He doesn't love me." she spews, making reference to the boys (and Albee's
homosexuality) with whom the son
would rather spend his time. But B's
intransigence is shown later to be partly
because the son tells her, as he is being
thrown out of the house, that he was witness to one of her sexual indiscretions
(Albee himself was thrown out of his home
when he was 18).
"And so ir goes' is ■ |jne repeated in the
play. And it could describe the general
direction of the play in the Fast half of the
second act. Albee winds things down, by
re in lore ing the differing perspectives from different vantage points of
the same life. It's a reassuring and hopeful resolution.
The performances are outstanding
from all the players. Nan Martin is near-
perfect as A. She impressively captures the sardonic and bitter qualities
of her character in the first act. Martin's portrayal of spiteful carping and
unceasing demands contrasts won-
drously with the sage demeanor and even
temperament she exhibits in the second act.
Kathleen Butler gives a stellar turn as
B. She delivers a heart-aching gentility in the first act that gives way to an
unbridled fury, a self-sustaining
righteousness and a touching sensitivity.
Tracy Sallows gives a flawless rendition of an impeccable yuppie with a
screaming impatience made plain in a
Later she demonstrates frightened
bewilderment, heated rage, hysterical denial, comforting dreams, and she
doea s" ^nvincingly.
Director Lawrence Sachrow d,s-
plays keen .nsight.nn, Albee's work. He
evokes a large range of emotions from his
cast and stages them with shatterins
"Three Tall Women" it a dramatic
tour-de-force and reaffirms Albee's
standing as one of the giants of American theater.
1919 Decatur Houston, TX 77007 713-861-9149
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