by Beki Pineda
THREE TALL WOMEN –Written by Edward Albee; Directed by Julie Kaye Wolf. Produced by Firehouse Theater Company (John Hand Theater, 7653 East 1st Place on Lowry, Denver) through September 28. Tickets available at 303-562-3732 or johnhandtheater.com.
It’s so easy to get lost in a movie. There is this space between you and the screen that allows you to subsume yourself into the bigger-than- life world built by the Hollywood magic makers. It’s so easy to turn off your senses and narrow the viewpoint into their world. The detail is overwhelming; nothing is overlooked; the faces peering down at you are bigger than your whole body. It absorbs you.
It’s a little harder with theatre. You are breathing the same air as the people on stage. You can see them sweat and watch them think. You are close enough to see that errant thread stuck to their shoulder or that curl come out of place. They are alive there in front of you ten or twenty feet away. Nothing is airbrushed away. They are the same size as you.
So on those rare occasions when you can completely lose yourself in the story being told, when you can believe unconditionally that these are the people to whom this story is actually happening, when you watch them create the lines with their minds rather than with a script, it is a gift beyond compare. This talented trio of tall women created a believable world in which the imperious A lives and remembers. Judy Phelen-Hill is luminous as a 92-year-old woman querulous in her demands on the attention of C who comes from the bank to collect the unpaid bills and unsigned papers and B, her everyday caretaker who has learned to live with her rudeness and reminiscences. She delights in entertaining her captive audience with tales of her youth and marriage to the “penguin,” her short, stocky husband. There were horses and lovers and a woman very much in control of her own destiny . . . in her memories. She is in turn shockingly ribald and winningly comic. Her story springs from her heart and is spoken as it is remembered with no filters. Judy brings A to life.
Donna Louden is B, the caretaker. Having had some experience as a live-in nurse, I recognize her “go along to get along” attitude and her desire not to make waves. She has learned the hard way that it doesn’t pay to try to change things in the narrowed down and selfish world in which her patient lives. She has come to accept the sometimes incoherent and unlikely ramblings of an old woman who rails against her place in life and the loss of control she experiences every day. Kate Poling as C, the bank worker, illustrates the viewpoint of the young and unexperienced in the harder parts of life. In trying to correct or find the truth in the old lady’s ramblings, she only adds to the confusion.
It is indicative of Albee’s gift that he finds a unique way to explore the more realistic truths of A’s life when in the second act, he allows the same three actresses to take on one life’s experience at different ages during that life. C becomes A at 26 – young, optimistic, determined and blissfully ignorant; B is her at 52 – jaded, unhappily married, unsuccessful as a mother, but still hopeful. A is A at 72, now aware of where her life took wrong turns but cognizant that it is too late to do anything about it. The 92-year-old A from the first act has had a stroke and lies comatose in the bed behind them as they explore the ins and outs of her life. C is determined she will NEVER become that pitiful creature lying in the bed while B and A recognize the inevitability of it all. An amazingly thoughtful way to look at a life. Backwards and forwards at the same time.
The warm and richly colored set denotes the comfort and stability with which A has been blessed. She is a woman who does not need to worry about money, has a nonchalant attitude about her financial state, and believes that her place in life is due to her. All this is conveyed in the colors and pattern of the back wall and the comfort of the furniture in her room. Director Wolf in her first outing has cast and directed with truth and honesty. She is lucky in her actresses and her actresses are lucky to have her as a director.
A WOW factor of 9!!