Time stopped for "Three Tall Women" in Danville and there are echos of no eros in Walnut Creek with "No Sex Please, We're British"

Time stopped this week for Edward Albee’s Pulitzer prize classic, “Three Tall Women”, in Danville and sex flew into hyper-drive in Diablo Actor’s Ensemble’s production of Foot and Marriott’s outrageous comedy, “No Sex Please, We’re British”.

Like night and day, these two productions are eons away from each other emotionally. Three Tall Women is a brilliantly written, powerful testament to the survivability of the feminine gender. It is engaging, endearing, and arresting while attesting to the triumphs, tragedies and universality of women. No Sex Please, We’re British, is a ribald romp in the most unlikely of arenas, in the most improbable of situations, to the most unlikely of couples, ripping forward at breakneck speed, leaving absolute mayhem in its madcap path.

Three Tall Women is a play, not of plot but of nuance, Albee being more interested in how time and experience changes our voices. He has been awarded three Pulitzer Prizes and a special Tony Award lauding him as “America’s greatest living playwright”, for his insightful writing and diverse body of work. Albee is not easy to digest; his writing is a bit dangerous, thought provoking and at times, disturbing. Albee is quoted as having said, “To a certain extent, a good play is an act of aggression against the status quo – the psychological, philosophical, moral or political status quo. A play is there to shake us up a bit, to make us consider the possibility of thinking differently about things.” Three Tall Women does exactly just that. It makes us transition from the mundane common place expectations and explanations of life or of the events in our lives. In a unique way, Albee shifts us into a different perspective, a different plateau from which to examine what life is really about, more than the superficial cabbage leaves of life. I had to see Albee’s award winning and controversial play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, three times before I discovered that there was a lot more going on between the lines, unspoken game playing and contests woven into the fabric, subliminal truths that eventually, finally, came to me.

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”, Lady “B” and Lady “C”, all populating a bedroom scene. Lady “A” (Elinor Bell) is a 91 year old wealthy woman in failing health, with various bodily functions intermittently going astray. Her memory plays tricks on her; good old days bringing tidbits of early titillations and salacious encounters which flash back briefly, then mysteriously disappearing, leaving her confused, asking herself, “what was I talking about?” Lady “C” (Sarah Kate Anderson), an impatient 26 year old legal aid from Lady “A’s” Estate legal counsel, is trying to discuss “A’s” inability to pay her bills on time or at all. 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”. Suddenly, without warning, Lady “A” apparently suffers a stroke while reclining in her bed. Ladies ”B” and “C” quickly summon the doctor and Lady “A’s” son. Thus ends the first act.

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. While the three women have no individual knowledge beyond each one’s experiences up to the age as portrayed by each character, they share with us the many twists and turns that color our expectations and realities as we mature down life’s road. In other words, the young Lady “A” has not given birth to her one and only son yet. The middle aged Lady “A” has suffered the affects of life’s intimidations and infidelities and personal rejection by her son. Elder Lady “A” has gotten past her bitterness and represents this lady at the grand age of 91. The Elder Lady “A” listens to each character trying to mitigate the incongruities life has dealt her through each stage of her life, the disappointments, anguish and realities of life, just glad to have actually survived as long and as well she has, all things considered.

Lady “A’s” son, described in the program as “the Boy”, is played well by Aaron Scherbarth, proving that “silence is golden”, as Aaron utters nary a word. He does however maintain steadfastly the image of a loyal and attentive son, paying homage to the mother he loved, left and now salutes in her final moments.

Typical of Albee’s great works, this is a very serious, thought-provoking work, occasionally very heavy and at other times very humorous. It is very adult in nature as the women reveal personal details about this woman’s life, her marriage to a man that she really married for money, his sexual proclivity, inadequacies, perversities and degrading intimidations. It is very straight forward and honestly delivered.

Historians have proposed that this work by Albee is an autobiographical look at his long strained relationship with his dictatorial and adoptive mother. With it, Albee offers us a unique way to provide us with his personal insights into the human aging process.

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).

This outstanding production continues Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sunday performances at 2 pm, now through May 9th. Tickets range between $22 and $25 each with students paying only $15 with ID. The Role Players Theatre is locate in Danville Village Theatre at 233 Front Street in Danville. Tickets may be purchased at the Danville Community Center at 420 Front Street or on line by going to www.villagetheatreshows.com or you can access more information by calling 314-3400.

"No Sex Please, We're British"

Now for the light and funny stuff! Diablo Actors Ensemble Director Scott Fryer has gathered together some of my favorite local actors in an outrageously funny British comedy entitled, “No Sex Please, We’re British”. Diablo Actors Ensemble is the long established local theatre company that took over the Lois Grandi Playhouse West theatrical venue on Locust Street in Walnut Creek, approximately a year ago.

There is nothing quite like these British farces to liven up an evening and this show is an absolute riot, from beginning to end. Originally written in 1971 and produced as a film (released in Britain only) in 1973, the play universally garnered terrible theatrical reviews and yet continued to pack in audiences from 1971 to 1987 on London’s West End.

A young newly-wed couple, Peter and Frances Hunter (Joel Roster and Megan Briggs), have recently moved into a flat owned by and directly above the branch office of the bank that Peter works for as an assistant manager. While the couple is still receiving and putting away wedding presents, the young bride discovers that she has received no stemware and she innocently decides to order some from a “Scandinavian Import Company”. However, what eventually arrives is Scandinavian pornography! Now remember, this was written in 1971, when adult magazines, movies and books were delivered in brown paper boxes and paper covers, through mail order only.

As the play opens, she is in the processing of getting dressed and her husband is likewise preparing to get ready to head down stairs to work. In that this is a flat previously used to house visiting bank dignitaries and inspectors, there is an intercom connected between the branch office below and the apartment above. It becomes quickly evident that this may not be the best of ideas, as employees in the bank below the Hunter’s apartment are already buzzing up their newly promoted assistant manager, asking him questions and relaying messages to him from other bank personnel. As Peter is about to go downstairs, he informs his wife that his mother , Eleanor, will be stopping by later in the day and that she might be so inclined as to “stay over” for the night. Francis, however, is not overjoyed by this news!

Frances hardly has her husband launched for the day, when mother arrives, up to her armpits in luggage, obviously intent on staying for at least a fortnight (14 days). Francis shuffles Mother Eleanor (Nancy Sale) up the stairs to her bedroom when the bank’s chief cashier, Brian Runnicles (Dennis Markham), arrives to discuss a matter with Peter. Peter returns to the apartment and along with Brian and Frances, becomes frantic over the arrival of a bunch of pornographic post cards in lieu of the Scandinavian glassware.

In that pornography was treated as “real crime” in those days, husband, wife and chief cashier descend into a state of insane, extreme chaos trying to find ways to dispose of the errant erotic material without Peter’s boss and anti-pornography advocate, Leslie Bromhead ( played by Randy Anger), discovering what is going on within his banks quiet exterior.

Police Superintendent Paul (played by Mark Barry), and bank examiner, Mr. Needham (Jerry Motta), also arrive adding to the madcap events that happen over a three day period. Peter sends a check to pay for the billing on the porno material hoping to quell any connection with the Porn Purveyor, while at the same time discreetly trying to dispose of the material. However, the check he enclosed in the post to the Scandinavian Import Company is accidentally switched with a check “for cash” that he was supposed to deposit to a customer’s account. That check is only about 100 times as much as was needed to pay for the illicit cards and suddenly, the couple and their flat above the bank becomes a virtual depository for pornographic material of all sorts. In the midst of this sexual misadventure, two lovely ladies of the night arrive at the insistence of the mail-order purveyor of porn, to help mollify or satisfy “a dissatisfied customer”. Definitely not what the couple needs at this time, as Peter’s boss strikes up a very personal relationship with Peter’s mother, Eleanor, bringing the boss and mother unknowingly into the midst of the fury and fray repeatedly. The two love-birds are for the most part oblivious to the undercurrent pulling everyone else into the erotic abyss.

The two licentious ladies, Susan and Barbara (Xanadu Bruggers and Laurel Kalan) are delightfully outrageous, great looking and fulfill the bill perfectly.

Absolutely absurd, absolutely madcap, absolute silly fun, this play is a laugh-a-minute adventure guaranteed to make you forget whatever was on your mind before you entered the theatre. This terrific piece of entertainment will definitely leave you laughing. Nothing in the show is any more than mildly erotic, providing merely the suggestion of “rampant sex”!

“No Sex Please, We’re British” continues Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., further there will be Sunday matinee performances on May 10th and 17th at 2 p.m., and closing with this performance on the 17th. The theatre is located at 1345 Locust Street (adjacent to Peet’s Coffee” in downtown Walnut Creek. I strongly advise arriving early to find parking, even though there is a public parking garage directly across the street from the theatre. Tickets range between $10 and $25 per ticket, with seniors paying only $21. You may call 482-5110 for reservations or you may visit www.diabloactors.com for additional information.