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All-Albee season ends with tall tale

Profile Theatre Project concludes its Edward Albee season with a bang in 'Three Tall Women,' the 1994 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama that signaled Albee's exhumation from the literary crypt.

'Three Tall Women' is actually Albee's third Pulitzer winner, after 'The Zoo Story' (1959) and 'A Delicate Balance' (1966). Only Eugene O'Neill has won more with four.

Albee has always been provocative and controversial Ñ for example, the Pulitzer committee was unnerved by the intellectual violence of 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' and as a result gave no drama award in 1962.

Albee's work has ventured into existentialism, absurdism and the metaphysical, and he's been hailed as a worthy successor to O'Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams.

But his 25 plays are evenly divided between hits and misses, and in the 1980s three of his plays Ñ 'The Man Who Had Three Arms,' 'Finding the Sun' and 'Marriage Play' Ñ were panned by the critics.

In dedicating a complete season to one playwright, Profile Theatre Project took its cue from Signature Theater in New York, which has been doing it for 11 years, says Jane Unger, Profile's producer. Earlier this season, Profile presented Albee's 'The American Dream,' 'The Zoo Story' and 'Seascape.'

Off-Broadway success

'Albee calls this play a returning point,' Unger says. ' 'Three Tall Women' was first produced in Europe, and it was received enthusiastically in Vienna. But it took some time to find backers for an Albee play in the U.S.'

When it did make it back to New York, 'Three Tall Women' settled in off-Broadway and became Albee's longest-running play.

The story concerns a 91-year-old grande dame looking back on her life. She's accompanied by two other women, aged 50 and 25 Ñ a caretaker and a lawyer, respectively, who reveal themselves in the second act to be the older woman in different stages of her own life.

The Profile production stars Portland veteran Gaynor Sterchi as A, the oldest; Karen Trumbo as B; and Valerie Stevens as C.

'It's a tour de force part for the older woman,' Unger says. 'We were so lucky to get Gaynor. She opened the first play for our theater Ñ 'Wings,' back in 1998 Ñ but she and her husband had moved to Spokane to be near their children. But Dennis Bigelow, the director, had worked with her and had a good relationship. She read the play and said yes.'

Trumbo starred in Alan Ayckbourn's 'Woman in Mind' for New Rose Theatre and in a series of David Ives one-acts called 'All in the Timing' at Portland Repertory Theatre. Trumbo also has made a number of movies, co-starring with Ed Harris in 'The Last Innocent Man,' the film based on Portland author Phillip Margolin's thriller. Stevens might be remembered as the lead in 1995's 'Keely and Du' at Artists Repertory Theatre.

Challenges abound

Unger says the biggest problems with the play were making the surroundings look luxurious, 'which was a challenge as we're not a company with great wealth,' and handling some tricky stagecraft.

'The play was written for a proscenium stage,' she says, 'and we're a three-quarter thrust stage with the audience on three sides, so there's one change that requires a lot of strategizing.'

Albee is also quite specific about the characters' physical traits, which makes casting difficult.

'They have to be three very tall women. The play doesn't work without that,' Unger says.

Next season will be devoted to the works of Romulus Linney (friend of Albee and father of actress Laura). Profile will present '2,' about Hermann Goering's shrewd performance at the Nuremberg Trials; 'Gint,' the story of Norse hero Peer Gynt removed to 1917 Appalachia; and 'Silver River,' which chronicles one woman's journey to literacy and the transformative influence language has on her life.

Contact Paul Duchene at

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