‘Three Tall Women’ performance is fitting tribute to Albee

Sophia Brown, Jan Meyer and Amy Loui in "Three Tall Women."
Sophia Brown, Jan Meyer and Amy Loui in "Three Tall Women."

A trio of actresses reach new heights in a great American playwright’s most personal work, "Three Tall Women."

To kick off its 10th season, St. Louis Actors’ Studio selected Edward Albee’s 1994 Pulitzer-Prize winning drama. It's their fourth Albee presentation, after "A Delicate Balance," ""The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

"Three Tall Women" is essential Albee — exploration of relationships and the human comedy through biting dialogue that crackles with wit and frankness, shocking revelations and thought-provoking soul-searching.

The St. Louis Actors' Studio interpretation is a master class of their favorite playwright. Under Wayne Solomon's deliberate direction, the actresses provide potent imagery in the first act and intersect as the same woman at different stages in the second act.

The end is near for a 91-year-old socialite, who reflects on the pleasures and pain in her long life.

In the first act, Jan Meyer delves into the once stately, now frail character, only known as A, who is demanding, vulnerable, ailing and anxious.

She is aided by a nurse in her 50s, known as B. Amy Loui is plausible as the caretaker who is almost as irritated as A about C, a haughty, impatient young woman in her 20s, trying to get the old lady to finish necessary estate paperwork, but with little finesse or tolerance. Sophia Brown makes a striking professional debut.

A often goes off on emotional tangents, reminiscing about her life of luxury — and the price she paid for the trappings of wealth. She married well, and that brought privilege, status, regrets and sorrow.

The next act is where we find out more about the dying woman's embarrassment over her rebellious gay son — and Loui seethes with rage about her free-thinking, free-wheeling son's behavior.

Michael B. Perkins enters as the son, who never speaks, but is at his mother's bedside throughout Act II.

Meyer is unapologetic as A in her 90s, from the vantage point of resignation about the past, present and future. Loui is forceful as the middle-aged A, at 52, a well-heeled woman who learned how to navigate the social tiers of the club, who cared far more about things than intimacy.

Brown is striking as the vibrant, lithe young woman of 26 who carries herself regally, with the self-assurance of someone discovering her feminine powers at the sweet blush of youth. She is dismayed at the disappointments that await her.

Albee, whose upper crust mom adopted him as an infant, is obviously wrestling with demons here. The second act is notable for its extraordinary insight and uncharacteristic hope.

The three women are convincing in these portrayals, with Solomon extracting uncanny nuances connecting all three as the same soul.

The costumes by Carla Landis Evans and the well-appointed set by Patrick Huber help amplify the elegance of the work.

Albee died on Sept. 16 at the age of 88. His work will endure because of the care and attention theater companies like St. Louis Actors' Studio will take. And "Three Tall Women" is a fitting tribute to his gifts.

"Three Tall Women"

Who: St. Louis Actors Studio, www.stlas.org

Where: 358 N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis, 63104

When: Thursday-Sunday through Oct. 9

Tickets: Ticketmaster 800-982-2787 or at the box office one hour before showtime.