Friday, March 30, 2018

REVIEW: Three Tall Women

Review of the Saturday, March 24, 2018 matinee preview performance at the Golden Theatre in New York City, New York. Starring Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill, with Joseph Medeiros (uncredited). A play by Edward Albee. Scenic design by Miriam Buether, costume design by Ann Roth, lighting design by Paul Gallo. Directed by Joe Mantello. 1 hour, 45 minutes, with no intermission. Limited engagement through June 24, 2018.

Grade: A+

I'm guessing that like me, other bloggers and legit critics will be consulting their thesaurus to find enough different superlatives when evaluating the revival of Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, which opened last night. I will start off simply: this brilliant masterpiece is the best play I have seen in years, on-, off- or nowhere near- Broadway.  And the same can be said for the entire production of the play, as well.

The scrim rises to reveal designer Miriam Buether's elegant, well-appointed bedroom suite, so tidy it borders on sterile. The room is a carefully calculated arrangement where everything is in its place, covered with the sheen of wealth and all masking the turmoil within its walls. The nearly frigid lighting (designed by Paul Gallo) has the feel of life draining from the air.  All of this remarkable physicality mirrors the room's chief inhabitant, an ancient, miserable woman who spends her days fighting pain and tormenting her caregivers, even as she torments herself with a myriad of memories that pop in and out of her head on a cruel whim.  The second half of the play includes a jaw-dropping change to that remarkable physicality, which further mirrors all of the inhabitants of that room.

How wonderful to report that as jaw-dropping and perfect as the set is for this production, the biggest thrills come from Albee's often hilarious, always sharp, and thoroughly thought-provoking script, some of the tightest direction, by Joe Mantello, who creates a lot of poignant physical movement in a very wordy play, and three Tony-worthy star turns by three generations of actresses. Three tall women, indeed.

In a role that will likely always seem like the least of the three, Alison Pill's performance is one that creeps up on you.  For about the first third of the play, she comes across as a pragmatic, almost supercilious millennial lawyer, and as such is not the most sympathetic of the three ladies. She also seems to have the least to contribute to the forward motion of the plot. But as the play progresses, and you see her not only survive, but hold her own against a barrage of acidic barbs, you come to respect her efforts. Then as the play enters its enlightening second phase, Ms, Pill not only holds her own against two titans of the stage, she joins their ranks as an equal, delivering a powerfully emotional performance that perfectly captures the arrogance of youth and the heart-breaking reality that all of us face as we start to age.

Again, I'll state it simply. Laurie Metcalf is one of the greatest actresses of her generation, and certainly one of the greatest currently on our stages. Like Ms. Pill, Ms. Metcalf plays two different variations on a theme - this time of middle age.  As is her trademark, she plays every moment with an astonishing immediacy as if it is really happening for the first time, and each of those moments reveals a rapier wit with an undercurrent of sadness, regret and a certain been-there-done-that attitude.
The role also offers her a few well-chosen chances to show off some nice physical comedy skills in the first section, while it offers ample opportunity for her to explore the darker end of human emotions. During a late play monologue, she held the entire audience in silent captivity as we hung on her every word while tears streamed down her face. Will she be winning a Tony two years in a row? Quite possibly.

I rarely make such a prediction in a review, but, barring a HUGE late season surprise, the winner of the 2018 Best Actress in a Play Tony will go to the glorious Glenda Jackson, who is giving one of those performances that people will be talking about for years to come.  That is no small feat, considering Ms. Jackson's career which is filled with many such pinnacles. Like the others, she plays two distinct characters in the course of the play, and yet she is the only one who actually plays the same character the entire time.

To say more would be to give away too much of the story, but suffice it to say Ms. Jackson is at the top of her game, delivering sometimes lengthy stream of consciousness monologues that often change emotion mid-sentence in the first part, which makes the relatively more subdued second part of her performance all the more delicious, as she strolls around the stage in full command. Two distinct facets of the same hard diamond, I was almost afraid to take my eyes off of her - will she break or explode? Either way, I don't remember blinking. Or breathing.

With three such amazing performances, such terrific visuals and beautifully timed direction, Three Tall Women fires on all cylinders and time flies. The result is a riveting, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, the kind often reserved for the latest roller coaster. This is a don't miss production.

(Photos by J. Kyler, B. Lacombe)

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