In the semi-autobiographical fantasia "Three Tall Women," Edward Albee has written what must be classified as a cubist drama. Albee scrutinizes his adoptive mother and his relationship with her, depicting the mother simultaneously at ages 92, 52 and 26, in three characters known only as A, B and C.
Oklahoma City Theatre Company ends its season with the winning production, which is well-directed by Carol Klages, and the show features the best performance of the season by an actress in a leading role.
Angie Duke gives a superior performance as A, the 92-year-old blue-blooded dowager with nascent dementia. Her expressive face shows disdain, delight, contempt, bafflement and fear, among other emotions. She keens a disturbing wail from deep in her gut. Mother A's account of receiving a gift of a diamond bracelet from her husband goes from hilarious to poignant and makes you feel ashamed for laughing at her.
As the theatrical season winds down, it is safe to call Duke's performance, quite simply, the most outstanding of the season. Anna Holloway as Mother B and Bonnie Frances Montgomery as C are first-rate, but Duke raises the quality of the production a notch or two.
VICISSITUDES OF LIFE
As did the character called The Boy (Rich Bailey in the non-speaking role at the reviewed performance), Albee left home early and was estranged from his parents for about 20 years, but he seeks no revenge in "Three Tall Women." Rather, he reminisces and examines the universal vicissitudes of life: the failures and the occasional small successes that keep human beings going from one triumph or tragedy to the next.
Although A, B and C interact, they each view their common life from their own limited perspectives. Mother C, showing the impatience of youth, wants to know how she changes into B, who resents the disappointments and frustrations that she has lived long enough to experience. Mother A suffers the indignities of old age, but looks back with acceptance on a life that has been largely fulfilling. She ruefully concedes the fleeting impermanence of jewels and other tangible wealth. "It's all glitter," Mother A says.
Does she have pat answers to life's great questions? No, because there no pat answers. Mother A reports that the happiest moment of life is just coming to the end of it. Her view of life is not pessimistic; she just means that you have survived as long as you are supposed to.
"Three Tall Women" won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for drama and revived Albee's career. His naturalistic dialogue and the conceit of depicting the same character at different ages are effective and interesting. The actors bear enough physical resemblance to each other to play credibly the same character.
Director Carol Klages and the designers make good use of the Civic Center Music Hall's intimate CitySpace theater. Lindsay Adams' set design realistically represents A's antique, matronly bedroom. Brenda Nelson's spot-on costumes include that character's elegantly simple diamond bracelet, plenty of pearls for all and expensive-looking, tasteful couture.
Three Tall Women stages at 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N. Walker.