Playwriting is often a form of artistic exorcism. Many a play has been written to bring a form of closure to unresolved conflicts, strained relationships or traumatic experiences, and to release the hold that personal demons have on their authors. For playwright Edward Albee (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), that demon happened to be his adoptive mother. Three Tall Women, Albee’s two-act exorcism, is running at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater through April 24.
It’s a four-character piece in which names are never spoken. The program lists them only as “A,” “B,” “C” and “The Young Man.” A (Laura Jorgensen) is a woman of 92, though she’ll only admit to being 91. B (Amanda Vitiello) is her caretaker, and C (Tiffani Lisieux) is a young lawyer assigned to assist in managing her financial affairs. A is in failing health, both physically and mentally. She struggles with incontinence, has short term memory problems and is extremely argumentative. B is used to A’s behavior, but it’s C’s first visit, and she has little patience for A and her accusations of theft and mismanagement. After a lengthy conversation about A’s past that’s full of the casual racism and homophobia that comes with privilege, A retires to her bed, where she suffers a stroke.
When the curtain rises on the second act, A is still in her bed. B and C enter the room dressed in beautiful evening wear. Then A walks in and joins them. The conversation begins again, and within a short while one realizes that all three are in actuality one person. B and C are now A at younger stages in her life, and they have questions to ask and things to say to each other. This is never more so than when The Young Man (Jean Colin-Cameron) appears.
Director Michael Fontaine has an excellent cast up to the challenge of not only playing multiple roles, but playing the same role as well. The contrast between the characters portrayed in the first act and the character portrayed in the second is striking, with Vitiello in particular having to do a 180.
While there are laughs in the show, it is by no means a comedy. I actually found the audience’s reaction to some of A’s bigoted epithets a little disconcerting.
That’s no fault of the artists, though, all of whom should stand tall for their work here.