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Sitting in the Dark

The Machinery of Memory

Three Tall Women is an unforgettable theater experience.
The Machinery of Memory
Published on March 21, 2011

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I don’t keep an official count on the number of community theater productions I’ve seen over the last seven years, but even the most conservative estimate would have found me sitting in the dark at least 350 times.

Very few of those nights—I’m not sure I would need more than my fingers and toes to compile such a list—could top the Blue Barn Theatre’s staging of Edward Albee’s semi-autobiographical Three Tall Women.

Towering performances by three tall women and magnificent staging make director Susan Clement-Toberer’s rendition of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama the stuff of dreams…and it got me thinking about the machinery of dreams and memory—how even the littlest of things can become forever etched in the farthest recesses of one’s mind.

And this from a man who often forgets where he parked his car.

Three Tall Women

Blue Barn Theatre
614 South 11th Street
(402) 345-1576 or
Through April 2

Will I ever be able to forget, for example, that a curtain call—what is normally a decidedly frivolous affair—can serve to advance a plotline even after a play has otherwise drawn its last breath? Not entirely sure of what I had just witnessed, I had to wait for the lights to go up to validate my interpretation. Yes, I later learned, it was wholly intentional—Albee’s express directive, no less—that only three of the four cast members would clasp hands during the traditional bouquets-and-bows rite.

Can the currents of River Lethe ever have the power to wash away the moment I came to recognize (how had I ever missed that?) the refined beauty of Ruth Rath in delivering a performance of a lifetime? Here she soars as a regal woman of breeding who is given to brooding, her chin thrust heavenward supported by an impossibly long and graceful neck.

Does time have the ability to erase the hypnotic gaze of that ersatz Greek chorus? Scenic artist Michelle Zacharia’s appropriation of women’s faces that are incorporated into a dizzyingly intricate painted backdrop left me mesmerized as an unsettling debate raged in my head. Are they, like we, watching the action, or are they watching us watch the action?

How about the almost perfect symmetry of Martin Scott Marchitto’s set? For all we know, he may have built only half a stage and was using a giant mirror to merely suggest the other half. Will the mirror of memory ever grow cloudy here? Even the horse paintings that flank the stage are perfect doppelgängers; one galloping left, the other right.

Will my recollections fade when it comes to the slow fade that is reduced to a baby spot on our protagonist to end the first act? Just exactly when did designer Carol Wisner’s lights begin to diminish in their agonizingly slow journey into oblivion? Was it ten seconds ago, or ten minutes ago? How is it that something can be at once both gradual and jarring?

Oh my, now look what I’ve done. I’ve nattered on so long about how to arrange and rearrange my mental furniture that I’ve left scant room to acknowledge Sonia Keffer and Kirstin Kluver as having delivered equally award-worthy performances. Or how Chris Fowler speaks volumes, even in a non-speaking role. Or anything at all about the plot.

It matters little. After all, you’ll have a chance to see for yourself in this transcendentally beautiful production of Three Tall Women.

VerstehenDavid Williams is a longtime performing arts critic whose ramblings have appeared in such publications as The Reader and The City Weekly, among several others.