“Three Tall Women,” playing this weekend at the Off-Broadway Space, is nothing short of profound. Colette Robert’s ’03 production of Edward Albee’s 1994 Pulitzer Prize winning play is a sensitive and, at times, disturbing reflection on what is woman, marriage, and the meaning of life.
The play’s three female characters “A” (Julie Lake ’05) , “B” (Vira Slywotzky ’03) and “C” (Jessie Wiener ’05) — ostensibly named to lend Beckett-style universality to the story — are representative of three generations of women in the first act. A is a 92-year-old woman near the end of her life, B is her middle-aged assistant, and C is a 20-something paralegal.
In the second act, the women morph into portrayals of the various stages of A: a young ingenue (C), a middle-aged wife (B) and a woman waiting for death (A).
Lake, as the oldest, A, is particularly impressive, as she manages to capture the indignities of age without sacrificing the dignity of her character. She plays the comic and poignant aspects of the character thoughtfully: one moment laughing, the next moment weeping, and both with sincerity and fervor.
Slywotzky’s middle-aged B is delightfully cynical. Her pantomime of hiding silver bowls up her skirt, in response to Lake’s accusation of stealing, is one of the funniest parts of the show. Slywotzky has depth and a remarkable range, switching from comedy to drama and then back again in the span of one monologue. She has great grasp of the dialogue, exemplified when she delivers Albee’s existential trademark, “So it goes –” with introspective clarity.
Wiener nails the bored assistant of the first act and the young and idealistic A of the second act with a dichotomy of youthful expression: she is the jaded young woman and hopeful ingenue all in the same show. Although occasionally stiff, Wiener nonetheless reveals the springtime in a show about the winter of life.
Robert’s production is well directed from every angle. Carefully selected colors in the set correspond to the characters’ costumes and represent the emphasis each character — or rather, stage of life — is given in the play. A’s beige hue is all over the room; B’s red outfits match one chair; C, wearing lively blue and green, is visible in only the smallest accents of the room. She guides the actors’ emotional choices with the same subtle and sensitive hand. The acting is effective yet not over the top — all the women are real and honest in their reactions.
The play’s main weak spot is its opening. It suffers from a slow start, as B and C remain basically silent, isolated in their own corners of the stage, and A rants incoherently for too long about her life and her paranoid fears of being robbed. But it picks up speed as A becomes more animated and the characters begin to share anecdotes of their life. Sexual escapades, marital infidelities, and maternal strife are all fodder for the three hilarious protagonists. Ultimately, the play reaches a moving ending, as each part of A begins to understand the others.
“Three Tall Women” reminds its audience that life, with its successes and failures, will eventually lead to death. One can only hope that the journey to the end of life will be half as entertaining as this play.