At Friday night’s opening of SCP’s terrific staging of Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women,” I was struck by a line that occurs five times: “And so it goes.” If Kurt Vonnegut first used the “So it goes” refrain in “Slaughterhouse Five,” the expression works here in the same way: sometimes you just shrug because you can’t make much sense of anything.
In Albeeland you must work hard to make sense of events, especially in a work whose characters are called A, B, C, and The Young Man (Rory O’Connor, seen, but not heard) and whose relationships are not clear.
In Act I we learn that A (Joanne Westervelt) is a wealthy woman of 90 being cared for by aide B (Cristine M. Loffredo). A’s financial manager, C (Stephanie G. Insogna), has come to help A sort out bills and checks, during which visit A begins, sometimes confusedly, to reveal many aspects of her long life: her upbringing; her sister; her marriage to a short, one-eyed man; her passion for riding; her racial and religious prejudices; and her absent son. B listens and encourages, while C is often appalled by what she hears.
Three Tall Women
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 S. Church St.
WHEN: Through Feb. 3
HOW MUCH: $15
MORE INFO: 382-2081, or www.civicplayers.org
Act II takes us in another direction. Suddenly, the three unrelated women of Act I become incarnations of the same woman (A) at different times of her life. And the hopes and dreams of C, at 26 the youngest, become, well, just that: hopes and dreams which, according to the older women who tell her with amusement and some bitterness, never come true.
In his introduction to the script, Albee acknowledges basing A on his prickly adoptive mother. “I recall being very interested in what I was doing — fascinated by the horror and sadness I was (re)creating.” Recreate it he has done in a play that is often darkly funny but largely unsparing about the grimness of the human condition.
For me Act II plateaus, becomes static, but this production never flags. SCP’s high technical standards are evident in Duncan Morrison’s stunning set (the richly appointed bedroom of A); Donald Mealy’s lighting design (executed by Elise N. Charlebois); Joseph Fava and Marcia Thomas’s costumes; John Fowler’s hair design; and Bonnie Lake’s stage management.
Thanks to insightful blocking and pacing by director Fava, the three actresses turn in remarkable performances, ringing subtle changes on their characters from one act to the next. Insogna’s C is business-like in Act I, then blossoms into a hopeful young woman in a couple of wondrous speeches about her emerging sexuality.
Loffredo plays the kind-hearted, realistic B with a familiar, upstate NY accent (that flat “a”) in Act I. In Act II, she becomes an angry middle-aged woman, betrayed by her husband but also with a little betrayal of her own. Loffredo’s delivery of B’s lengthy monologue as she prowls the stage, justifying and looking for answers, is compelling.
And Westervelt, front and center throughout, spools out A’s memory of a long life of joy, ruin, passion, disappointment, newfound wisdom, and sadness with the subtlest changes of tone and expression. Sometimes the speeches overlap, keeping up the energy of the scene and our minds alert: superb ensemble work.
This is a play not to be missed.