REVIEW: Three Tall Women (Court Theatre)

  
  

Three strong women champion Albee’s tale of end-of-life regrets

  
  

Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women features Mary Beth Fisher (Woman B), Lois Markle (Woman A), Maura Kidwell (Woman C).  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

  
Court Theatre presents
   
Three Tall Women
  
Written by Edward Albee
Directed by
Charles Newell
at
Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map)
through Feb 13  |  tickets: $10-$50  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Edward Albee’s 1994 play Three Tall Women breathed new life into the legendary playwright’s career. Although works like Zoo Story and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf were instant classics, many thought Albee had finished cranking out the good stuff by the 1990’s. The doubters were put in their place with this meditative piece, a half-exorcism, half-eulogy closely linked to Albee’s own experiences with his deceased adoptive mother. Finding himself king of the American absurdism hill again, Albee took home a Pulitzer prize and found receptive audiences for his later plays, which include The Goat, or Who is Silvia? and The Play About the Baby (both of which also garnered many awards).

Mary Beth Fisher (Woman B), Maura Kidwell (Woman C) and Lois Markle (Woman A). Photo by Michael BrosilowThree Tall Women examines a life, but with a fractured and multifaceted lens, Albee’s trademark style. The three women are really only different versions of one, an old former socialite on her deathbed. The woman, a semi-fictional representation of Albee’s own mother, lived a life rife with pleasures and regrets. She came from poverty and learned fast about love and society, and ended up a wife and mother (with heavy doses of infidelity and familial strife). Although the play eschews any neat moral, you leave the theatre with a new comprehension for how the seconds of life tick away.

The first act rolls along slowly. The protagonist, A (the remarkable Lois Markle), sits on her bed, recounting and rambling about her 90+ years of life experience. She is attended on by B (the also remarkable Mary Beth Fisher), who is some type of live-in nurse. Also in the room is C (Maura Kidwell), a lawyer’s assistant intent on getting to the bottom of some financial inaccuracies. The trio trade barbs and gems about life, but mostly they listen to the occasionally incoherent tales of A. Death is a constant presence, but it isn’t the main focus of all conversation. The first act characters dust the inevitability of death under the rug until right before intermission.

Dying, life, and regret become the center of Act Two. A’s condition has deteriorated. She lies in a bed, wired to monitors. However, Albee has the woman—or women—discuss her life in front of the body. A, B, and C are now several personifications of the same woman. C is the 26-year-old girl, B is the embittered 52-year-old spouse, and A is the finale of the woman’s life. They argue, teach, and advise. C can’t believe she becomes B, and B can’t imagine how she transforms into A. Yet they all face death together. The comatose A has a visit from her son (a lineless Joel Gross), which inspires completely different reactions from each incarnation.

Director Charles Newell assembled a shining group of women for his cast. Markle, who was referred by Albee himself, gives a magical, heartfelt performance. Fisher keeps up with her, packing her portrayal of B with sass and vulnerability. Kidwell stumbles in the first act, unable to give C the layers required. However, any young actress is going to look unpolished when placed on-stage with such seasoned performers as Markle and Fisher. But Kidwell picks it up after intermission and holds her own.

In general, the first act feels clunky and languid. Act Two has a completely different energy, and Newell isn’t afraid to try some risky staging. It pays off. The latter half is exponentially more engaging, especially with Fisher’s and Markle’s talents.

It really doesn’t matter much how biographical or fictional Three Tall Women actually is. Albee, Newell, and the cast find universal truths in the woman’s story. We all are going to die, no matter our age now. It is one thing about the future we can be sure of.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women features Maura Kidwell (Woman C), Mary Beth Fisher (Woman B), and Lois Markle. Michael Brosilow.

  
  

Artists

 

Creative/Production Team

Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Charles Newell
Scenic Design: Leigh Breslau
Lighting Design: Marc Stubblefield
Costume Design: Ana Kuzmanic
Dramaturg: Megan Geigner

Photographer: Michael Brosilow 

 

Cast

Woman “A” Lois Markle
Woman “B”Mary Beth Fisher
Woman “C” Maura Kidwell
The Boy Joel Gross

  
  

Bios

EDWARD ALBEE was born on March 12, 1928, and began writing plays 30 years later. His plays include The Zoo Story (1958), The American Dream (1960), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1961-62, Tony Award), Tiny Alice (1964), A Delicate Balance (1966, Pulitzer Prize; 1996, Tony Award), All Over (1971), Seascape (1974, Pulitzer Prize), The Lady from Dubuque (1977-78), The Man Who Had Three Arms (1981), Finding the Sun (1982), Marriage Play (1986-87), Three Tall Women(1991, Pulitzer Prize), Fragments (1993), The Play About the Baby (1997), The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? (2000, 2002 Tony Award), and Occupant (2001). He is a member of the Dramatists Guild Council, and President of The Edward F. Albee Foundation. Mr. Albee was awarded the Gold Medal in Drama from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1980, and in 1996 received the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts.

Photo of Charles NewellCHARLES NEWELL has been Artistic Director of Court Theatre since 1994, where he has directed over 30 productions. He made his Chicago directorial debut in 1993 with The Triumph of Love, which won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Production. Directorial highlights at Court include The Year of Magical Thinking, The Wild Duck, Caroline, Or Change, Titus Andronicus, Arcadia, Man of La Mancha, Uncle Vanya, Raisin, The Glass Menagerie, Travesties, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Hamlet, The Invention of Love, The Little Foxes, Nora, and The Misanthrope.  Charlie has also directed at the Goodman Theatre (Rock ‘n’ Roll), the Guthrie Theater (Resident Director: The History Cycle, Cymbeline), Arena Stage, John Houseman’s The Acting Company (Staff Repertory Director), the California and Alabama Shakespeare Festivals, Juilliard, and New York University. He is the recipient of the 1992 TCG Alan Schneider Director Award. He has served on the Board of Theatre Communications Group, as well as on several panels for the National Endowment for the Arts. Opera directing credits include Marc Blitzstein’s Regina at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Rigoletto at Opera Theatre of St. Louis. Charlie is a multiple Joseph Jefferson Award (Chicago’s highest theatrical honor) nominee and recipient.  Most recently, his production of Caroline, Or Change at Court was the recipient of 4 Joseph Jefferson Awards, including Best Production–Musical and Best Director–Musical.

  
  

One Response

  1. […] George played with ferocity by Tracy Letts. The Charles Newell-directed Three Tall Women at Court gorgeously exposed the hopes and regrets of one woman’s life, and starred three stunning actress particularly […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: