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Three Tall Women

ACC reaches deep to mine understanding from Albee's profound conversation about aging and dying

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., June 22, 2012

One life, three angles, (l-r): Gricelda Silva, 
Peg Patrone, Katheryn Smaczniak
One life, three angles, (l-r): Gricelda Silva, Peg Patrone, Katheryn Smaczniak
Photo courtesy of Shelby Brammer

Three Tall Women

Austin Community College Gallery Theatre, 1212 Rio Grande, 223-3245
www.austincc.edu/drama
Through June 24
Running time: 2 hr.

Written by Edward Albee after his mother's death, Three Tall Women begins with an old woman complaining of her ailments. With her is a nurse in her middle years and a young woman sent from the attorney's office. The old woman's memory and body are failing – with frequent and urgent trips to the bathroom punctuating her faulty reminiscences. The nurse deals with it with as much patience as she can muster. The youngest woman is wide-eyed, taking in this unpleasant evidence of mortality.

In time, the conversation shifts abruptly. The old woman suffers a stroke, and what then follows is a trio on the nature of aging and dying from three women who embody three radically different periods from a single person's life. Albee's writing, in what's generally acknowledged to be one of his finest plays, is profound in its ability to simultaneously capture not only different ages but also the different realities and beliefs that exist across time in the same person.

In the Austin Community College Department of Drama's production, the second act is more engaging – once the whole concept becomes clear. The first act brings a necessary understanding of the old woman's history, but the second allows for a more direct conversation about what it is to age, how we change over the years, and if it's even possible for a young person to truly know her own thoughts and beliefs, untested as they are by time.

Given that the play is not only titled Three Tall Women but also contains references in the dialogue to how tall the women are, and to how short their husband was in comparison director Marcus McQuirter has made a peculiar choice in casting Gricelda Silva as the youngest woman. Though a very fine actor who gives a solid performance here, Silva is quite possibly the shortest adult actor currently working in Austin. It's surprising that McQuirter couldn't find someone equally capable but taller (I'd settle for anywhere over five feet) to play a 26-year-old woman.

Performing Albee is difficult in part because the dialogue is almost but not exactly realistic, and discovering a good balance between playing the words and the ideas behind them is challenging. One gets the sense from the production that no decision was made about how exactly to take on the language, and the cast is left hanging without a firm commitment to a single vision.

At the same time, ACC's presentation of Three Tall Women reaches deep to bring out what understanding it can. Actors Peg Patrone, Katheryn Smaczniak, and Silva play with and against one another well. Laura Del Villaggio's costume designs subtly complement the characters as their stories unfold. What emerges from the performance is a complicated resolution at the end of a contradictory life, and the unsettling suggestion that neither blame nor love is absolute.

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