Thursday, March 1, 2001
Imagine Samuel Beckett''s Waiting for Godot mated with Edward Albee''s American Dream and reduce the characters to one, three-tiered maid/mother/crone personality. Do that, and you''ll get some sense of Three Tall Women, Albee''s 1994 Pulitzer Prize winner staged by Monterey Peninsula College at the Carl Cherry Center for the Arts.
Like Godot, Women has circular dialogue that spirals ever closer to the play''s true meaning and themes, and we are set up early in the play to expect the arrival of someone whose appearance is ultimately a disappointment. As in Dream (or Who''s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or almost any other Albee work), the characters are either reluctant or unable to reveal the truth unless pressed to the wall.
Structurally, Women is essentially two one-act plays that feature almost the same characters in almost the same scene but approached differently. In the first act, we are introduced to the characters, simply named A., B., and C. A. (Rosemary Luke) is a cantankerous, frail, nearly senile woman of 91 or 92 years old (depending on whom you believe); B. (Virginia August) is her middle-aged hired nurse/companion; and C. (Monica Hunken) is the young representative of A.''s law firm, given the task of straightening out A.''s finances. In the second act, A. has regained her vigor and it is revealed that B. and C. are actually representations of herself at different stages of her life.
Although Act I is enjoyable enough and offers the actors room to flex their muscles (particularly A., who moves from imperious matriarch to squalling infant to witty socialite and back again at the drop of a tear), it quickly becomes redundant. We are soon given to know the basic conflict between the old woman and the young lawyer, and the difficulty the middle-aged nurse--caught in the middle--faces in empathizing with both of them.
Act II is ultimately the more satisfying of the two, as the story of A. is revealed: how life''s unpredictable accidents and happenstance transformed her into an old woman who proudly declares that she doesn''t like people.
Director Conrad Selvig (who also designed the set and lights) wrings the most out of the script, delivering a smooth production that balances the weighty meat with its lighter moments. Although there''s plenty of room in the script for actors to go astray, veering as it does from bathos to farce, Selvig keeps his cast on track, allowing both the humor and the drama to rise unforced from within the situation.
All three actors turn in strong performances, with particular kudos belonging to Rosemary Luke. Although clearly far from the 90-some years demanded by her character, she makes us believe she is indeed a brittle-boned old woman on the doorstep of total senility. Luke''s ability to appear totally lost and frightened in mid-sentence completes the picture. She isn''t just an old, ailing woman, but someone who has memories that still put a smile on her face, a mistrustful personality that prevents her from truly enjoying anyone''s company, and she is self-aware enough to know that she has had a lot to do with creating her own situation.
Virginia August, as the middle-aged version of our triadic character, also turns in a nicely textured performance. The role doesn''t demand the same range of emotion, but August gives us a character that retains at least some of the kind, hopeful nature of her young self while recognizing that she is headed for a lonely future. Monica Hunken does a good job creating a character who is self-righteously impatient with her elders'' frailties without becoming totally callous.
What Albee seems to be curiously optimistic in saying is that every age can be life''s best age. But don''t worry, Albee hasn''t lost his sense of ironic cynicism. Our happiness is defined by our level of innocence. In the final analysis, the question seems to hang: Which is better--youthful ignorance of the future...or aged forgetfulness of the past?
Three Tall Women plays Friday-Saturday (8pm) and Sunday (4pm) at the Carl Cherry Center, Guadalupe and 4th in Monterey, through March 25. Tickets cost $15/general or $12/students and seniors. For reservations or more info, call 646-9478.