They say the happiest moment is at the end when you can look back on it all, reflect and know it’s over. The Fells Point Corner Theatre delivers such a moment of reflective happiness in their production of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women.
The story of a woman’s life at its end unfolds through her senile ramblings – both things she can remember and things she can’t – while her fifty-something caretaker and her twenty-something lawyer attempt to sort out her affairs. The second act is almost a different show where the twenty-something lawyer and the fifty-something caretaker become the old woman as she was at those ages, and the old woman herself reflects differences of her life at the various ages. A truly unique piece.
As the show opens the set is enough to truly set the mood. Designed by Richard Roymark, the elegant blue bedroom gives the lavish sense of afforded riches while subtly hinting at the melancholy of things to come. The walls are a deep but bright shade of blue showing hints of aristocracy – while setting a subdued atmosphere in the room. Deep cherry wood furniture accentuates the homely space, well plotted on the roomy stage. And the purple lighting that frames the front of the stage during act two, designed by Charles Danforth III, creates the perfect ambiguous feeling for when the three women have become one and are discussing their past, present, and future in a confounding manner.
The play calls for no names, referring to the characters only as “A”- the old woman, “B”-the caretaker, and “C”- the lawyer. At first you feel detached, not knowing their names, but names quickly become irrelevant as the story unravels. You don’t need these women to have names because their words portray their story, creating a unique identity without ever needing to know if they were an Emily, Robin or Sue.
B, played by Cherie Weinert, and C, played by Kate Shoemaker, rely heavily on their physicality to deliver their sense of existence in the first act. They have minimal lines, often repetitive lines that are little more than reminding A, played by Helenmary Ball, where she was in one of her ramblings. Weinert and Shoemaker draw out there lines, sounding a little too rehearsed, almost as if they are reading during the first act, and their physicality, despite the heavy dependence that the characters need here, is limited. There are explosive moments that should occur between the two of them when Ball has exited to the bathroom, the words say it all, but the intention and drive just isn’t behind their interactions.
Weinert bursts into a stunning change in the second act, however, delivering a speech so powerful and moving that it nearly brings you to tears. She is trembling and actually crying as she recalls a vivid memory, relaying to C, who at this point is the old woman at age 26, how she will become a bitter woman by the time she reaches her age, 52. She stands stoically still, gazing off into some unseen memory, shaking and screaming, whispering and crying and truly owns the moment of her speech as she speaks. Her development in the second act outshines her earlier performance and she finds a kinship with Ball, mimicking words, intonation and gestures in such a manner that creates a believable relationship between the two women in the second act; for at this point they are the some woman, only Weinert is 52 and Ball 92.
But the star of the show will blow you away from beginning to end. Don’t mistake Helenmary Ball for the fragile old woman that she plays. While the character is frail, physically and mentally, Ball delivers a performance of epic proportions. It almost pains me to watch her fall into her moments of muddled confusion, crying out to know where she is and what she was talking about because Ball delivers such a convincing performance that I believe she is truly a senile old woman who has no concept of what is going on. She flows seamlessly from one emotion to the next, often in rapid succession – just as one would expect from such a character – sobbing in hysterics one moment and literally busting out laughing the next.
When Ball launches into her reminiscing spells during the first act it’s laughably nostalgic. She rambles on, muttering to no one in particular, jumping topics and repeating herself with such lively animation that it’s hard not to laugh. As she loses herself in these memories you believe that she is really experiencing them as her eyes glaze over and she stares into nothingness trying to grasp the faint detail as if it actually happened to her.
A bed is a risky prop for any actor but Ball masters it as she falls back in collapse, desperately needing rest. She sinks into the sheets and pillows but delivers an even more powerful speech, still fully present and wound in her characters tension never once giving way to the ease of the mattress or losing sight of her vocal projections. Her final stance is mind blowing as she looks back on everything. From her ranting and raving at all emotional levels and volumes during act one, to her demure and solidified reflections during act two, Ball owns her character in every way that an actor can own a character with such commitment and driving force behind everything she says and every move she makes.
They playhouse may be a little difficult to find (as it is not actually on the corner of any street but rather in the middle), but it’s worth the trip because FTC has a warm and friendly atmosphere. If you want to learn a little about life – and are feeling particularly tall – drop down into the Fells Point Corner Theatre for Three Tall Women.
Three Tall Women plays through October 16th, at Fells Point Corner Theatre - 251 South Ann Street, in Baltimore, MD – Located between Pratt and Gough Street – one block east of Broadway, in Upper Fells Point. Purchase tickets online, or call the theatre (410) 276-7837.