At 7:15 p.m. on this Wednesday evening I was in a bit of a huff. Mad, actually, because I couldn’t find a parking place. I hate to pay for parking. And usually there’s a spot lurking somewhere west of Seattle Center. But not tonight. I finally gave up, parked and payed, and headed across the street to the Seattle Rep to see Edward Albee’s play, Three Tall Women.
Three hours later, sitting back at my computer, knowing I’ve been changed by what I experienced tonight. The second act did me in.
Megan Cole, Suzanne Bouchard, and Alexandra Tavares were not only tall, they were towering. Lithe with words and moments, shifts of emotional tone lightning fast, the three of them played Albee’s rhythms like musicians, and after reading director Allison Narver’s notes, it was easy to see that as conductor, she gave a pretty tall performance herself. In short (no pun intended), I haven’t been this impacted by a piece of work in a long, long time.
Three Tall Women (spoiler alert, but it’s not about plot anyway) is a play about three women at three distinctly different seasons of life, and then in Act Two–and the structure and writing is oh, so subtle, but works seamlessly–they become the same woman. It reminded me of that book I love so much, The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Neffennegger, in which the protagonist time travels and meets himself coming and going. The whole idea of the future and what waits for each of us, and would we want to know what’s coming if given the chance. Albee’s older women say, “No way.”
This is not a review. It’s more a report about an experience. Act One belonged to Megan Cole. As an old woman on her very last legs, she played Albee’s action as a verbal dance, full of runs and stops, turns and leaps, frets and furies, as well as the on and off warm memories sweeping into her in recurring waves. It was pain, bitterness, and courage on display, loss upon loss: her memory, her temper, her control of bodily function, her money, her son, and in the end, her life. Act Two opened a window into the grand sweep of one particular life, into which Albee stuffs an awful lot of theatricality, courage, and bursting pain. Suzanne Bouchard’s mid-act tirade, sparked by the arrival of someone she once threw out of her house, was nothing short of mesmerizing. Stunning. Rage, bravado, pride, fear, sexuality, disbelief, strength…all on display. And she barely moved.
And all of this firmly set inside the soft-walled, hard edged-frame box of a design beautifully conceived by Matthew Smucker. The program suggested the design made us voyeurs. I never felt that way. I felt I was in a gallery, watching lives rendered in a very focused, attention-holding strategy. It was odd not to see their feet, but I loved the frame and clean lines of the soft, near transparent curtain that surrounded the space. And the light was just beautiful, shifting simply to illuminate the moods at work in the various sections of the play.
The reasons I was impacted so deeply are personal, and I’ll speak of them another time. But my mind was opened in a way that I can’t really imagine happening any other way. The experience of these women was palpable to me, so imaginable, so compassion-inducing, so terrible in its content, but so thrilling in its form, its rhythm, its language, meter, and emotional scales.
Mss. Cole, Bouchard, and Tavares…thank you. Thank you for the gift of all those years of preparation and work in the aesthetic mastery of your craft. On this Wednesday night, you delivered big time.
And it mattered…