BWW Review: THREE TALL WOMEN at Little Theatre Of Mechanicsburg
Three Tall Women first appeared on stage in Vienna in 1991. Considered a revitalization of playwright Edward Albee's work, Three Tall Women won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1994. Three Tall Women was inspired by Albee's experiences with his own adoptive mother. In Stretching My Mind, Albee states, "I knew I did not want to write a revenge piece-could not honestly do so, for I felt no need for revenge. We had managed to make each other very unhappy over the years, but I was past all that, though I think she was not. I harbor no ill will toward her; it is true I did not like her much, could not abide her prejudices, her loathings, her paranoias, but I did admire her pride, her sense of self. As she moved toward ninety, began rapidly failing both physically and mentally, I was touched by the survivor, the figure clinging to the wreckage only partly of her own making, refusing to go under."
The audience meets the characters, A, B, and C as separate individuals in Act I-A is a 90-something-year-old woman (who does most of the speaking in the first act), B is her 52-year-old caretaker, and C is a 26-year-old representative from a law firm. In Act I, we see A from a more external point of view, as she tries to recollect various parts of her life. Without giving away too much of the plot, Act II shows these women in a different light, allowing the audience a more intimate, internal glimpse into A's life and mind. Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg takes on this demanding play, directed by Stephen Hensel. It opens on January 17 and runs through February 2.
As the audience steps into the theatre, they are essentially stepping into A's bedroom. The intimacy of Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg is perfect for this show, giving the audience the feeling of truly being in the bedroom. The set is beautiful-just what one would expect of the bedroom of an aging, reasonably wealthy woman. The bed, which dominates center stage, remains in the background-a reminder of A's inevitably failing health.
This production of Three Tall Women is captivating, in large part because of the skill of the actors on the stage. Cheryl Crider takes on the formidable task of portraying A, Catherine Tyson-Osif takes the stage as B, Taylor Onkst is delightful in the role of C, and AJ Rhoads has the difficult job of playing the non-speaking but highly emotional role of the Boy.
While the Boy is referenced throughout Act I, he does not make an appearance until Act II. Rhoads manages to demonstrate this silent character's conflicting feelings toward A through his body language and facial expressions. It is not an easy task to play a non-speaking role, especially when much of the role is not only non-speaking but also largely unmoving, as the Boy is unaware of the action going on around him. Rhoads never wavered in his commitment to the role, even as he sat by the bed without speaking and without moving. When he finally interacts with A, his movements and facial expressions are genuine reactions to her words and actions. It is almost difficult to watch as the complicated emotions underlying their relationship play out across his face-it's beautiful and heart-wrenching.
One of the most interesting things about this play is the way in which the women have to play their roles. While the essential elements of their characters remain the same, there is a transformation between Act I and Act II. All three women in this production manage these changes with seeming ease, linking Act I and Act II together with what remains the same, while aiding the audience in understanding what they are seeing as the play moves from one act to the other.
In Act I, Taylor Onkst plays C with a biting wit, responding to A with a mix of sarcasm, frustration, and incredulity. Catherine Tyson-Osif brings out a blunt, jaded, and yet strangely compassionate B in Act I. One of the best aspects of this production is the facial expressions from these two actors-even when they are not speaking. Since A does most of the talking in Act I, there are a number of times in which they are silent, but their facial expressions speak volumes.
As we move into Act II, Onkst's character undergoes quite a transformation. Her monologue is delivered with a sense of playfulness and the joy of being a much-admired 26-year-old woman. As her character is introduced to aspects of life as yet unknown to her, Onkst demonstrates the character's fear and denial with great skill. Tyson-Osif's character has a unique perspective, as she is able to both remember the past and look toward the future. Her interactions with A and C reflect this perspective beautifully in Act II. In her reactions to the Boy, Tyson-Osif particularly demonstrates the strength of her acting and the breadth of the emotions she is capable of displaying.
Cheryl Crider's performance as A is mesmerizing. Throughout the show she is incredibly poised-even in the moments when the character breaks down in the first act. Crider does an amazing job of demonstrating the frustration, fear, paranoia, and mood swings that A experiences as she deals with aging and memory loss. Her posture, demeanor, facial expressions, and line delivery are deliberate and well-crafted to draw the audience into her remembrances.
To say much more would be to give away too much. Three Tall Women is a deep, emotional, and intimate show. It is in very good hands with the cast and crew of Little Theatre of Mechanicsburg. First-time director Stephen Hensel's vision for the performance is authentic and beautiful in its subtlety, and I look forward to seeing his future projects. Get your tickets for this unique and honest performance at www.ltmpa.com.