But the play, being performed by Danville’s Role
Players Ensemble, is so much more than the airing of dirty laundry.
It is the examination of a detailed tapestry of human emotion,
exploring the nooks, crannies and backwaters of life in the long
It’s a story told by three women of different ages: Old and dying A (Elinor Bell), middle-aged B (JanLee Marshall) and 20-something C (Sarah Kate Anderson). Or, as seems clearer in the second act, it’s the examination of one life from different ages. It’s a riveting yarn, told beautifully by the Role Players’ cast, which immediately picks up Albee’s realistically packaged theater of the absurd and runs with it.
In the first act, Bell gets all the good stuff, as a 90-some-year-old woman reaching the end of her life and exasperating the two younger women. And Bell is absolutely terrific in the role that moves her range from coquet to codger as she alternately relives her highlights over again in her memory and then is nearly paralyzed emotionally by the prospects of the slender future in store for her.
The play’s lines are more heavily divided in the second act, but the two younger women, aspects of the older woman’s life, remain at least somewhat overshadowed by A, who appears both as a mannequin, silent beneath her oxygen mask in bed, and as a fully mobile character on stage.
It is also here that the play’s fourth, mute character, The Boy (Aaron Scherbath), comes into the room to sit silently beside his mom’s bed. As he sits in silence, the three women relive A’s life, revealing details and sharing secrets from different perspectives, in what is much more clearly Albee’s autobiographical commentary.
Director Richard Robert Bunker, has created a crisp, clean piece of theater, working with his actors to give the absurdist dialogue the ring of realism, which makes the various tricks of dialogue and repeated lines as effective as possible. Contributing to this realistic feel is the master bedroom set design by Eleisa Cambra
Three Tall Women is a play, not of
plot but of nuance, Albee being more interested in how time and
experience changes our voices…
Three Tall Women is like two different plays contained within one. The first act appears to be a fairly common storyline, with generic characters, three tall women who are the subject of the story…”Lady A” (Elinor Bell) is a 91 year old wealthy woman in failing health, with various bodily functions intermittently going astray… Lady “C” (Sarah Kate Anderson), an impatient 26 year old legal aid… Lady “B” (Jan Lee Marshall) is a 52 year old caretaker for the elderly woman.
The first act engages the three women as they discuss and deal with the many moods, anger, distrust, intermittent dementia, pranks and foibles of the aging Lady “A”. ..
When the second act opens and moves forward, we are at first confused, perhaps even slightly bewildered, as the same three tall women are now on stage, having left behind their first act characters, becoming instead three age specific-incarnations of Lady “A”. They interact much like spirits, standing in the same bedroom, apparently following Lady “A’s” stroke (where Lady “A’s “ body still reclines in the bed). Lady “A’s “ son enters the room and without expressing a word, pulls up a chair next to the bed, sits next to his mother’s reclining form, and holds a vigil over her as the play continues. The three tall women continue to be absorbed in a discussion between themselves about “A’s” life’s experiences. Sarah Anderson is now portraying Lady “A” as a 26 year old, Jan Lee Marshall examining Lady “A’s” life experience up until her 52nd year, and Elinor Bell summing up Lady “A’s” life’s collective experiences to this point in time, in her 91st year. ..
Director Richard Robert Bunker has provided the audience with a richly rewarding, albeit darkly illuminating, experience. He selected three extremely talented actresses who are right on the money. While I was standing in the foyer of the theater at intermission, I overheard a gentleman speaking to others about how brilliantly portrayed these characters are. He exuberantly explained that he “knew each of these women intimately”. I stopped him moments later and asked him about his basis for making these statements. He conveyed to me that he had been in the business of working with senior citizens as a manager for a senior citizens home and convalescent care center for 28 years. He again concluded that the director and actors had delivered very real characterizations that he could relate to and was frankly amazed at such a great portrayal. I have to concur! Superb performances, superb acting, superb set (Lisa Cambra) and costumes (by Lisa Danz).
By Geoff Gillette
As a former thespian in community productions, I am excited to visit backstage at the Village Theatre on Friday just prior to the opening of the Role Players Ensemble Theatre’s new production “Three Tall Women.”
My own memories of opening nights fill me with anticipation of the buzz and activity backstage as time winds down and the actors prepare for the lights to come up. Role Players Artistic Director Sue Trigg ferries me back to the dressing room, where the three women in question ready themselves for their first appearance.
On our way we pass the lone male cast member, Aaron Scherbath, grabbing a quiet moment and a cigarette in the parking lot behind the theater. Trigg calls out to the young man and asks how he’s doing.
“Nervous,” he says. “I’m nervous but I’m OK.”
Trigg smiles and nods, “Nervous is good,” she says and offers him the traditional actor’s salute of “break a leg.”
Inside the building I get a chance to spend a few minutes with the three tall ladies, Elinor Bell (A), Jan Lee Marshall (B) and Sarah Kate Anderson (C). Normally, those would be actual names in the parentheses, but in Edward Albee’s play the women are never identified, so letters serve to set them apart.
The dressing room this evening has an energy to it, not of panic or fear but of quiet expectancy. These actors have been rehearsing the play for the last few months, but tonight it is real.
Bell is deeply engrossed in the process of transforming herself into the 92-year-old A that she plays in the show. When I ask if I can snap some pictures of them getting ready she offhandedly responds, “As long as I don’t have to pay attention.”
Moments later as I head out to take my seat she murmurs, “Well, that was pretty painless.”
Ten minutes later the house lights dim, the stage lights come up, and the show begins, a dissection of the final days in the life of an elderly woman.
In the first act, she is awake and talking with her nurse (Marshall) and an attorney (Anderson). Her mind drifts in and out of the here and now, sometimes weaving conversations now with events that happened long ago. The two other women try to follow along with the twisting paths of thought, with only limited success.
Through it all, you get a picture of what the woman’s life was like, its highs and lows.
The second act takes a turn and the same three women retake the stage as aspects of the elderly woman from the first act, at different moments in her life. They vividly display the joy of youth, the disappointment of middle age, and the sagacity of the elderly.
Director Richard Robert Bunker chose his cast wisely; these three women work well individually and together to present the life of A.
Bell turns in an astounding performance as her physicality coupled with the makeup transform her into a convincing 92. The scenes where she is grappling with her shifting memories ring true with a poignancy that is difficult to attain. ..
Marshall’s performance requires a more layered approach, as she plays the nurse/attendant with a wry good humor in dealing with such subjects as loss of bladder control and keeping pace with her cantankerous charge.
Yet in the second act she is forced to act outside that character, showing the bitterness and anger that can fester in a life unfulfilled. Betrayals and disappointments build up, and in a scene where she finally erupts at her long lost son (Aaron Scherbath) the anger she displays scorches the air.
Anderson, the youngest of the three, displays the qualities of youth. The arrogance of a life yet to be lived and the loss of innocence that comes with the discovery of her own mortality. In talking to her older selves, she sees what is to come in her life and questions her future, wondering if she will be happy.
Scherbath has a difficult role to play, as the son who is only seen but never heard. He serves as the lightning rod to Marshall’s anger but is unable to respond. Yet his facial expressions speak volumes as he watches his mother in her final moments…
The show is well done, in all aspects, from set design to lighting to costuming. Even minor audio hiccups fail to distract from the tableau created by the three actresses. “Three Tall Women” is a fascinating examination of a life as it ends, and Role Players more than does the work justice
The Role Players Ensemble Theatre in Danville is
currently presenting a brilliantly clever restoration comedy, The
School for Scandal, by the very articulate author,
renowned orator and British parliamentarian, Richard Brinsley
This is a very complicated play and certainly a very ambitious play for community theatre.
There are 15 diversely comic and intriguing characters in this farcical story about sibling rivalry, love, lust, fidelity, infidelity, and artificial relationships…
Director Sue Trigg has done an excellent job of selecting cast members capable of providing full meaning to their characters. This is an outrageous farce, a grand comedy and for the most part, it is carried off very well.
Meghan Neal, Danville Weekly, April 25, 2008
“A Scandalous romp. Comedy of manners proves that gossip is nothing new”
…The show holds nothing back. Ripe with unabashed sexual insinuation and tongue-in-cheek wit, it relentlessly pokes fun at the members of this London society… The plot makes the ride even more fun. It’s full of love triangles, scandalous affairs and irresistible deceit. And the talented cast provokes laugh-out-loud moments more than a few times.