Story: ‘A’ is 92 years old but still considers herself in command of a room. ‘B,’ her 52-year- old lady-in-waiting, sees to her needs, which are substantial at her advanced age. She seems accustomed to A’s running commentary, some of which is lucid, some not so much. And then there’s ‘C,’ a 26-year-old lawyer from A’s attorney’s office, who has come by A’s house because A hasn’t been signing necessary documents.
‘A’ spends the bulk of her time reminiscing, and often her remarks are met with caustic incredulity by C, who doesn’t have the laid-back resignation of B. ‘A’ remembers the good times as well as the bad with her late husband, who wasn’t very attractive but did make her laugh and was a good provider. He was shorter than her, too, because she’s always been quite tall as well as somewhat imperial by nature.
She and her husband had one child, a son who left them when he was 18 and hasn’t been in her life much since. After ‘A’ suffers a stroke, ‘B’ and ‘C’ become more obviously younger versions of her. Each of them knows intimate details about A’s life up to ages 26, 52 or 92.
Their collective memory offers plenty of examples for rumination about their past, especially when the prodigal son at last returns home.
Highlights: Stray Dog Theatre presents a faithful rendition of playwright Edward Albee’s reflective 1991, semi-autobiographical drama, winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1994.
Other Info: Albee’s pensive and static, two-act play premiered in Vienna in 1991 before making its American, Off-Broadway debut in 1994. Its initial Broadway presentation in 2018 garnered six Tony Award nominations, including Best Revival of a Play, winning for Best Actress and Best Featured Actress.
Three Tall Women moves very slowly, a leisurely paced work which relies on expert direction and acting to propel its characters along for more than two hours. Stray Dog artistic director Gary F. Bell is meticulous in adhering not only to Albee’s script but also to the show’s mood and tempo.
The audience sees immediately the ornate, elegant lifestyle to which ‘A’ is accustomed in Miles Bledsoe’s impeccably tasteful scenic design. It’s anchored by a handsome, resplendent old bed situated before an imposing, curtained window which rises above the stage in a room filled with classically crafted furniture. Tyler Duenow’s lighting carefully illuminates the single set.
Bell’s costumes dress the trio of women in comfortable attire in Act I before adorning them in shades of violet in the second act, matching the subtle lighting in the background.
He elicits fine performances from the women portraying A, B and C, namely Jan Meyer, Donna M. Parrone and Angela Bubash, respectively. Meyer has the lion’s share of lines, shaping them as much with her eyes and gentle smile as with her language. She convincingly depicts two sides to A, the frail and often forgetful woman in Act I opposite the wry, confident and accomplished lady in the second act.
Parrone shows B initially as content to serve in A’s shadow as her caretaker but then after intermission offers a more tempestuous and emotional side of the woman in middle age. Bubash’s C is pretty much of an outsider throughout, whether the bored young attorney or the central character in her youth, oblivious as to the woman’s conflict with her not-yet-born son.
Stephen Henley fills out the cast in the thankless role of the silent son, who spends the second act sitting mute on his mother’s bed, not noticing any of her various versions even as the older two can see him, riling their emotions as they react to their perceived injustices to his mother.
Three Tall Women is a contemplative, languidly paced drama, a portrait of the artist’s troubled upbringing in the shadows of a dominant but not too loving mother, whose formidable frame casts a long and lingering shadow.
Play: Three Tall Women
Company: Stray Dog Theatre
Venue: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee
Dates: February 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, 21, 22
Tickets: $25-$30; contact 865-1995 or StrayDogTheatre.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb