There is some mighty fine talent in the Western Gold Theatre production of Three Tall Women, but the trio of power-houses are hampered by the decision to present the play on a traditional proscenium stage inside the PAL Theatre black box.
[pullquote]Hagan is particularly good here as the eldest of her three selves and when she tells the story of refusing to perform fellatio on her husband it is with a mixture of regret, mischief and brings a subtle reminder to her performance that being a child and growing old are somehow inextricably linked. [/pullquote]Considered Edward Albee’s most personal work, Three Tall Women is also cited as having revived his once flagging career as a playwright. Going on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1994, the show’s pedigree is undeniable. In this production, however, what made it such a darling is all but lost inside director Terence Kelly’s heavy-handed staging of what should be an intimate emotional exploration and reflection on life and aging.
By placing his actors on the proscenium stage, made smaller than typical purpose-built prosceniums by the confines of the PAL Theatre, Kelly forces them to spend much of their time simply addressing the audience. With very little in the way of action, the trio are positioned on three points, and more often than not are forced into one-quarter position to stand and deliver lines. The result is an antiquated feel that is at odds with a play that was written less than 25 years ago and the play’s own timeline.
All three women – Anna Hagan, Beatrice Zeilinger and Meaghan Chenosky – fight mightily against their disadvantages, and while there are moments where they are able to pull us into their world, they are unfortunately the exception.
Hagan is particularly good here as the eldest of her three selves and when she tells the story of refusing to perform fellatio on her husband it is with a mixture of regret, mischief and brings a subtle reminder to her performance that being a child and growing old are somehow inextricably linked. Zeilinger effectively pulls from her own life, with an obvious understanding of what it like to deal with aging and Chenosky brings a hopeful cynicism to the youngest. But none of the performances are able to rise and sustain above Kelly’s staging that sometimes felt as old as Woman A herself; there is a lack of connection with these three women that could have easily benefited from more intimacy with the audience.
Glenn MacDonald and R. Todd Parker give us a realistic bedroom set, but it contains nothing to indicate even an illusion of money. And with a symmetry that rarely exists in the real world, it could have benefited from being even just a tiny bit off-kilter. There is an obvious amount of work that went into creating the stage at one end of the PAL’s empty space, complete with arch, curtain and raked stage, but it felt confining and did little to draw us in. Darren Boquist’s lighting design works, but there are some odd levels, especially as the women stand to deliver lines to the audience.
The sum is a production that feels old-fashioned and distancing. I’m not sure that is what Albee intended.
Three Tall Women by Edward Albee. Directed by Terence Kelly. A Western Gold Theatre production. On stage at the PAL Theatre (581 Cardero St, Vancouver) until November 9. Visit https://westerngoldtheatre.org for tickets and information.