MASTERFUL! This would be the best way to describe Court Theatre’s dazzlingly beautiful production of Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize Winning “Three Tall Women”. Albee wrote this piece soon after the death of his adoptive mother and as we watch the story unfold we see just how personal this story is to his life. The play, skillfully directed by Charles Newell, takes a look at the life of a woman and the stages of her life. It starts out in the first act with the elder woman ( Lois Markle in an amazingly perfect portrayal) being tended to by her “nurse” ( The divine Mary Beth Fisher, who is always a treat to watch on stage) and her “lawyer” ( the delightful Maura Kidwell who just keeps growing and maturing on our Chicago stages) examining her life and what is happening to her. As the act ends, she has a stroke and they are off to call her son and her doctor as the lights come up.
When act two begins, the set has changed from her ritzy bedchamber to a hospital room, and she is hooked up to machines that are keeping her alive. As the act continues, we find that this is in fact not her, but a symbol representing her and now all three ladies are onstage, dressed to the nines, as this characters, but in different stages of her life. We now see her life through a new clarity of mind. No longer to we have a women with scant memories, but now three women who represent different ages as the real story of her life unfolds before us. The memories, good and bad of a life that has not been what was expected of this woman but rather the path she chose to live. We see that the son she had, a character who never speaks but is played well by Joel Gross ( action and reaction to the three women who own the stage during this entire period of time).
Writers have a tendency to use their own pasts and those of people they know, or other stories they have heard or witnessed to create new stories. In this play, one can only assume that the Boy is indeed Albee and this women is indeed his adoptive mother. The fact is, even if this is not the case, Albee does capture the aging process as this women relives her past in her mind and as she nears her death, her recall becomes much clearer. I know from my own past , the loss of a brother and father who as they came close to the end began to talk about events that had slipped our minds and what was babbling only weeks earlier, became clear and concise recalling events that are still dear to me. Albee captured this to perfection and Newell and his cast have created a masterpiece that will make you laugh and think about your own life and experiences in dealing with the aging process. All three women are sheer perfection. As the production ends, all three women, as one assume that the end is here and as we watch them join hands on the floor, it is difficult to hold back the emotion that you feel and a tear or two dripping down your cheek. Bravo!
The stage for this production is rectangular and open with very little in the way of furniture- simplicity would have to be the word to describe what Leigh Breslau has created and Marc Stubblefield’s lighting and Ana Kuzmanic’scostumes are all the right touch for the total production. Albee is not about glitz and glamour, but rather about the story and the words. We, as an audience, are not distracted from the action and the words written which makes this production solid and powerful. We can see that the three actresses are listening to each other as well a splaying off each other, both in the first act as three different characters and even more so in the second act when they are one. I see this production as one of the top shows of the year and suggest that you find a way to be one of Chicago’s theater-goers who can state, “I was luck enough to see Court Theatre’s brilliant “Three Tall Women”, which will continue at The Court Theatre located at 5535 S. Ellis ( on the campus of The University of Chicago) through February 13th ( perhaps they will extend- I hope) with performances as follows:
Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m.-Fridays at 8 p.m.-Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.-Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. ( running time about 2 hours 15 minutes)
Tickets range from $40-$60 and are available at the box office, by phone at 773-753-4472 or online at www.CourtTheatre.org
There is free parking next door and lots of dining in the area ( Hyde Park)