Reviewed by Judy Richter
Even though Edward Albee is one of the nation's premiere living playwrights, the Bay Area hadn't seen a production of his "Tiny Alice" since American Conservatory Theater staged it as the opener of its 1975-76 season. Now Marin Theatre Company is re-examining it in a superbly acted production directed by artistic director Jasson Minadakis.
The ACT production was controversial almost from the start because the playwright, after seeing a preview, objected to the way the since-deceased William Ball rewrote the third act. Albee threatened to halt the opening but relented after ACT agreed to read his disavowal before the production. However, Ball, the company's founder and artistic director, failed to do so. Albee's subsequent lawsuit failed, but he and ACT agreed that the company would pay him double royalties. Hence, ACT didn't produce an Albee play until "The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?" in 2005.
The current Marin production is authorized by Albee, but both it and the ACT production that I saw remain enigmatic at the core. However, the Marin production has the advantage of right-on casting of all five actors, while only four of ACT's five actors could handle the demands of their roles. Moreover, Minadakis underplays the hints of homosexuality while Ball played them up.
The central story remains the same: The Lawyer (Rod Gnapp) goes to the Cardinal (Richard Farrell) to say that a very rich woman, Miss Alice (Carrie Paff), wants to give the church $1 billion this year and another $1 billion a year for the next 19 years. The one catch is that the Lawyer wants one of the Cardinal's aides, a lay brother, to go to Miss Alice's home to take care of the final details.
This opening scene alone is worth the price of admission as Gnapp and Farrell barely disguise the loathing their characters have had for each other ever since they were in school together. It's also clear that neither is particularly strong in the ethics department. Still, the Cardinal agrees to have his aide, Brother Julian (Andrew Hurteau), finalize the details.
Things get murky after that. Perhaps they boil down to questions of faith and man's relationship to his god as well as reality vs. illusion. Certainly those are the questions that Julian has struggled with in the past and that he is forced to confront even more directly, especially as Miss Alice works her erotic charms on him. In the meantime, it's not clear why this is happening and what the relationships are among the Lawyer, Miss Alice and their henchman, Butler (Mark Anderson Phillips), the butler.
In the end, the viewer is left with far more questions than answers, but there's no doubt about the dramatic power of this production and its terrific actors, each seemingly tailor made for his or her role.
Production values add to the enjoyment. Central to the production is the large scale model of Miss Alice's mansion that dominates many scenes. It was created by scenic designer J.B. Wilson, whose otherwise simple sets facilitate scene changes. Fumiko Bielefeldt designed the costumes, which are highlighted by Paff's flattering dresses and Farrell's elaborate robes as the Cardinal. Lighting by Kurt Landisman and sound and music by Chris Houston enhance the mood of each scene.
Because it's so talky and so puzzling, this isn't an easy play to sit through, but it does allow for much reflection afterward. During the production itself, one can revel in the acting and direction.Return to Home Page