Three Tall Women

by Edward Albee

'Tall Women' brilliant opener for Stage 3 season

by Sherman Spencer
Stockton Record

Like Eugene O'Neill and Neil Simon, playwright Edward Albee sought to sublimate his resentments toward his family by dramatizing them. The result, his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Three Tall Women," provides a brilliant opening work for the seventh season of Sonora's Stage 3 Theatre Company.

Albee had a particularly dysfunctional family experience. Adopted by a wealthy couple, his emotional differences with his foster parents lead to his leaving home as a young man and never reconciling with his adoptive mother.

After his mother's death -- his father died much earlier -- he wrote this play in an attempt to provide himself with an objective explanation as to why she became such a difficult and embittered creature.

The play opens with women A, B and C.

Woman A (Bette Laws-LeFevre), wealthy, 90 years old, feeble, terminally ill and irascible, takes out her resentments on B (Margo Whitcomb). The latter is in her 50s, is apparently A's paid companion, with a mordant sense of humor and tolerant attitude that enables her to deal with A's demanding conduct.

Woman C (Cyndi Owens), a young woman employed by A's lawyer to straighten out her tangled legal affairs, has less patience with the elder woman.

The first act proceeds realistically as the two younger women cope with A's senile behavior as she recites a litany of her earlier life.

In the second act, different time frames and characters merge to present a complex portrait of different aspects of the women. The son (Eric Owens) also appears in a nonspeaking role.

I'd read this play before and seen it performed in San Francisco by a Broadway touring group. Though I enjoyed that performance and admired Albee's novel concept and clever writing, I didn't feel much involved in the action.

The Stage 3 production, with its intimate venue and a heightened emotional content, provided a wholly new dramatic revelation to the work. The characterizations had a validity and vigor that I had formerly found lacking.

Laws-LeFevre is simply magnificent in her role. Physically perfect as a stunning former model, she also makes a convincingly emaciated, near-death nonagenarian.

She prattles about her youth, weeps over her faltering memory and revels in her bigotry. Yet through it all she reveals the strength of will and warmth of passion that make understandable the personality she later displays.

As B, Whitcomb achieves with total dramatic control and credibility the character transformation that supplies the crucial clue to the family's torment.

Fewer dynamic changes are required of Cyndi Owens, but she conveys a completely consistent and effective interpretation of C, as an alternately naive and arrogant young woman.

All three perform together with truly impressive ensemble, an essential skill in this dark comedy of fragmentary lines and mixed emotions.

Equally responsible for the impact of this production is the insightful and incisive direction of Barbara Segal-Mills. She is aided and abetted in this impressive enterprise by Charles Blackwell's appropriately sumptuous set, the fashion-magazine quality costuming of Gail Russell and the subtle, but so effective, lighting of Ron Madonia.

This is a dramatic event not to be missed.