Written in 1990 the play won Albee his third Pulitzer Prize and was hailed by commentators at the time as a return to form by the playwright after a period in which it was feared his creative powers had begun to wane.
Also noted at the time were the similarities of events in the play that reflected Albee’s own life experience of leaving home as an 18 year-old to escape the disapproval of his conservative adoptive parents who disapproved of his sexuality.
Three Tall Women revolves around a wealthy, cantankerous 92 year-old woman, (Karen Vickery). In the first act this woman is being attended by a kindly, bemused 52 year-old carer, (Lainie Hart) and being questioned by a 26 year-old women, (Natasha Vickery) who has been sent by the woman’s lawyers to clear up some perceived irregularities in her accounts.
The elderly woman dominates the conversation with sometimes confusing recollections of the events in her life, while also demanding attention from the others to painfully arrange herself in her chair, walk her unsteadily to the toilet, or re-arrange her in her chair when she returns. The first act ends when the woman has a stroke mid-conversation.
The ages of the women are important because in the second act it becomes obvious that the women now represent the woman at different stages of her life. Behind them, through a gauze curtain, can be seen an inert figure in a bed, representing the woman either dying or already dead.
During the course of this act a young man, presumably her estranged son, enters and sits wordlessly by her bedside, while the three women continue to discuss their lives seeking to define “the happiest moment”.
Sophie Benassi has produced a handsome, thoughtful production, casting three of the city’s most accomplished actresses, clothing them in elegant costumes and surrounding them with carefully chosen décor to reflect the wealth of the central protagonist. Benassi’s direction is clear and appropriate through-out and despite the wordiness of the play, she never allows the action to become static.
As the oldest of the three women, Karen Vickery commands the stage with a finely-observed performance that is a continuous joy to watch. However she by no means steals the show as Lainie Hart and Natasha Vickery match and compliment her every moment throughout the play.
Indeed one of the chief delights of this production is watching the wordless interplay and body language between the three actresses as they deliver and respond to Albee’s acerbic, often confronting, dialogue.
With this production of Three Tall Women, Chaika Theatre Company has set a high benchmark for future productions at the ACT Hub.
Three Tall Women
ACT Hub – The Causeway Hall, 14 Spinifex Street, Kingston (Canberra)
Performance: Wednesday 18 May 2022
Season: 4 – 21 May 2022
Image: Three Tall Women – courtesy of Chaika Theatre Company
Review: Bill Stephens OAM