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SCALING THE HEIGHTS: Monica Cappuccini (left), Diane Tasca (center) and Rebecca J. Ennals deal with impending death in 'Three Tall Women.'

Stages of Life

Edward Albee follows the aging of 'Three Tall Women' in Pear Avenue production.

By Marianne Messina

THE GENERALLY caustic playwright Edward Albee must have blinked a moment of moderation when he wrote Three Tall Women. The play front-loads the harsh realities of a dying woman into Act 1 and then eases into a fascinating study for Act 2. The 92-year-old woman referred to as "A" (Diane Tasca in this Pear Avenue Theatre production) is attended by her middle-aged caretaker "B" (Monica Cappuccini) and the young lawyer in charge of her financial matters, "C" (Rebecca J. Ennals). As house-coated A goes from sitting chair to bathroom and back—sometimes coherent and biting, other times rambling and trembling—a grand, pillow-laden bed dominates the set, a looming reminder of the "final resting place."

Youthfully goal-oriented and uncomprehending, C relies on B to translate the old lady's world-weary meanings. At times, the hardy nurse seems to use A's decrepitude as an assault weapon against the younger woman. C cringes and gasps as Cappuccini's forceful B baldly describes the pus and stink of A's withered arm, for which doctors advised amputation. With half-finished thoughts and jarring nonsequitors, Albee's language comes out tipping a hat to the likes of Samuel Beckett, but happily the language grows more natural as the play progresses.

In Act 2, unconscious A, represented by a shriveled, gray-wigged head poking from the bedcovers, receives a silent, bedside visit from her son (Zachary Howard). Meanwhile, an elderly but less feeble A, dressed in a distinguished skirt suit (Tasca also designed the costumes), perambulates with a formidable cane. She chats with the other two women—herself in youth and middle age—conversing as if the split seconds before death are stretched for this final reconciliation of selves.

At times Albee's conceptual redundancies and long speeches get the best of this show, and it lags. The static setting offers little relief, and Howard's minimal movement conveys little beyond the sweet fondness that belies his mother's cruel assessment of him. The crux of Albee's play is not impending death but the round-table discussion among the stages of life. C hasn't met the husband A refers to as "the Penguin," and B hasn't lost him yet. Older characters reveal future courses that younger ones think impossible. "I will not become you," says young C in her peachy flapper outfit and lengthy pearl choker. Innocence is rarely a virtue for Albee, and Ennals' C always reacts not from timidity but from a stubborn desire to shut out the unacceptable.

Tellingly, the alpha moniker goes to the oldest character, feeble though she be. Director William Kenney doesn't miss this point. At first glance, the production appears to forward the middle stage of life, partly because Cappuccini is so dynamic. Her dominant presence can obscure Tasca's more internal performance, suggesting that middle age strikes the ideal balance between power and wisdom. Or is it just the loudest balance? While, Cappuccini's B evokes a primal zest, with Tasca, several emotions flicker across the eyes before she utters a word. As in life, it's easy to miss subtle signals from the slow and aged, but this show captures Albee's hint that a wily, knowing, perhaps brutal triumph lies beneath the bedcovers of age.

THREE TALL WOMEN, a Pear Avenue Theatre production, plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through Nov. 18 at the Pear, 1220 Pear Ave., Unit K, Mountain View. Tickets are $15–$30. (650.254.1148)

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