Sunday, May 22, 2016

Albee exorcises his demons in THREE TALL WOMEN at convergence continuum

Edward Albee’s THREE TALL WOMEN, a version of which is now on stage at convergence-continuum, has quite a pedigree.  In 1994 it won Best Play recognition from the Drama Critics Circle and the Outer Critics Circle, the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

THREE TALL WOMEN is classic Edward Albee.  The one-time wunderkind  of American existential theatre, his Theatre of the Absurd plays were the toast of the 1960s and 70s.  Besides asking, “why do we exist?,” and writing about the off-kilter ways that people operate, many of his personal topics and references were the center-point of his scripts.  He was at his best when he was exorcising his own demons.

Edward Albee was the adopted son of a wealthy movie/vaudeville theatre magnet.  What is now the Connor Palace, in Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare, was one of his father’s film palaces.  Edward was raised with very conservative New England values.  When he came out to his parents as being gay, he was basically rejected. 

At eighteen, like the son in THREE TALL WOMEN, he left the Albee home, much in the same way that Beau does in the play, which has many of Edward’s  personal experiences chronicled in it. 

Albee is quoted as saying that the play “was a kind of exorcism.”  Unfortunately, he also admits, “I didn’t end up any more fond of the women after I finished it than when I started.”  Obviously, he wasn’t any fonder of his parents as a result of the exorcism, but it did put him back on track for recognition by the critics, many of whom had thought he had flamed out as his more recent plays were exercises in frustration, getting little praise.

The plot centers on the protagonist, a woman of more than 90-years-of-age, who reflects on her life.  A life that is filled with dealing with a mother who was controlling, of going off to the “city” and living with her sister, dating many men who desired her for being a tall attractive women, an explanation of her sexual pleasures, marrying a man for his money, and now living in a body which she has lost the ability to control.

She recalls the wonders of early marriage, her “penguin” husband’s affairs and death, and her banning and resulting estrangement from her son.

In the first act we meet A, the tall, thin, autocratic, wealthy old woman who appears to be in early stage-Alzheimer’s,  B, her mid-fifties caretaker,  and C, a younger woman, who has been sent in by the law firm hired to take care of A’s financial affairs.  A has not been paying bills, contends everyone is stealing from her, and is managing her estate in a state of psychological chaos. 

In the second act, as A lies inert, in bed, after suffering a stroke, we overhear a conversation with herself at three different ages.  The appearance of the shadow of the son, hovering over his dying mother, overlooks the interaction.

THREE TALL WOMEN premiered interestingly enough in Vienna, Austria in June, 1991.  It played off-Broadway for three months in 1994, then moved on-Broadway for a year-and-a-half run.

The script is a difficult one to produce.  Totally conversation, with will little stage movement or visual excitement, it requires three superb actress to grab and hold the audience’s attention.   It also requires a director who can create interest out of just a flow of words.

The con-con director (Tom Kondilas)  and cast give it a valiant try.  The end product is an acceptable, but not an exceptional staging. 

To make the play live the women must create finely textured performances that dig into each character’s motivations.  Of the three actresses, Lucy Bredeson-Smith creates the most consistent characterization as A.  Teresa McDonough (B) and Sarah Kunchik (C) are acceptable in their role development.

Beau Reinker (The Young Man), who is video recorded, and appears throughout the second act as a background image, hovering near or next to his comatose mother, becomes a distraction after a while.  The video loops the same actions and image, pausing at various points and then starting again.  Two other conundrums are the light and sound.  The illumination levels vary at times, with no seeming consistent purpose.  The background music adds nothing to setting mood or cue meaning.

Capsule Judgement:   For those who like the writing of Edward Albee, Theatre of the Absurd, and existentialism, this is an opportunity to experience one of his three Pulitzer Prize winning scripts.   They should be aware that the convergence continuum production of THREE TALL WOMEN is an acceptable, but not an exceptional staging of the work.

THREE TALL WOMEN runs through June 11, 2016, at 8 pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at convergence-continuum’s artistic home, The Liminis, at 2438 Scranton Rd. in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.  For information and reservations call 216-687-0074 or go to