Reporting From Broadway

Three Tall Women

Glenda Jackson, Alison Pill, Laurie Metcalf in Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, directed by Joe Mantello, at the Golden Theatre.

While Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women, his 1994 Pulitzer Award-winning drama, is full of sadness, Joe Mantello’s revival brings out its underlying and uncanny sense of comedy. Seething beneath the fast-paced banter, in fact, is a kind of Grand Guignol, a graphic display of amoral horror and entertainment.

While the characters are nameless, Glenda Jackson plays A, Laurie Metcalf, B, and Alison Pill, C. They clearly are not faceless.

As the play opens, Jackson, an embittered old lady, is barely hanging on. By the second act, after a stroke, she (or her double) lies speechlessly and motionlessly in bed. But that doesn’t keep her from chiming in constantly about her deceased husband, her son, who later comes to visit, her finances . . . you name it. Jackson portrays A with energy and jaded wit, rattling off her sarcasms and name calling with invidious delight.

Along with expressing her upright conservative values, Jackson’s character spews racial slurs, defecates in her chair, and acts out at her lack of control.

Revealing in an absurdly humorous story the grotesque values of her ilk, she reminisces about her husband’s gift of a diamond bracelet. While sitting naked, with only gobs of jewelry, he approaches her with “a wide, so wide” diamond bracelet hanging from his “hard peepee.” Clearly, she wasn’t an innocent. And he was a victimizing husband, described as “the little one-eyed man,” with “the morals of a sewer rat.”

Yet C (Pill) tries to maintain the veneer of dignity. That is, in spite of society’s victimizing and false promises. As Metcalf’s older character expresses it, “Twenty-six to 52? Double it? Double your pleasure, double your fun? . . . They lie to us. They tell us we don’t change.”

The Tony and Emmy Award-winning Metcalf is at her comedic height here, in a performance that is loose-limbed, kooky, and free spirited, in spite of the straight-laced, amoral parent C is.

Still, the underlying dread of morphing from C to A, from youth to old age, is devilishly present here. As Metcalf tells Jackson about Pill, “She wants to know how she turned into me. And next she’ll want to know how I turned into you.”

From a feminist perspective, the conversation is about growing old and losing one’s looks, a painful process for a beautiful woman. From a psychological point of view, it expresses the fear of becoming that stingy conservative old lady who won’t hand over the inheritance, and who makes us dread what we may become.

Within the interchangeable nature of A, B, and C, lie familiar Albee themes about identity, and the ability to define oneself. In addition to the dying yet omnipresent Jackson, there is a sense that each of the characters is removed from themselves, as in an outer body experience. Perhaps they are all versions of A, who we are seeing in various stages of her life. At the same time, they reflect the impossibility of being oneself, or even finding oneself.

In Miriam Buether’s elegantly appointed bedroom suite, a full-size mirror — transcending the boundaries of the proscenium stage — holds us, the audience, up to our own scrutiny. And Ann Roth’s costumes simply express the identity of the characters. Jackson, elegantly clad in lavender, Metcalf, comfortably attired in sneakers and slacks for most of the play, and the long-legged Pill, in fashionable business attire.

The brilliance of the acting shines through in this marvelous production. Jackson especially, a vibrant and accomplished actor, spins through her web of tangled thoughts and half remembered stories with ease and vigor.

Despite the humorous and spirited fun on stage, the moral is tough. With the mirror peering into the audience, as we peer at the actors, we share the loneliness in which life ends. But we also share a sense of relief, when we can finally stop looking, and simply know.

LOBBY HERO

As humorous and unpretentious as Lobby Hero is, in its portrayal of everyday urban life, it’s a delving piece of theater, about the stories we tell ourselves and others.

At the center of it all, Jeff, played by Michael Cera (“Arrested Development”), is a nebbish, a guy we literally catch sleeping on the job. Fortunately, he usually wakes up in time to avoid getting caught by his boss, William (Brian Tyree Henry), the African American manager of the security guard company. A hefty man, with a heavy head, William’s primary interest is to work his way up, but his foot is stuck in the world of ghetto crime. And it’s not even his own world — it’s his lying brother who may have murdered the single mother of three little children.

Interestingly, in this four-character play, everyone is in uniform, as if their uniforms (designed by Paloma Young) tell us who they really are. But nothing here is quite so literal, or necessarily on the surface. The other two characters are police officers — they wear the real uniforms, so to speak. And they also are involved in the same adulterous, sexist, manipulative moves that typically go on in companies.

The complexities of urban life, issues of civic responsibility, the law, crime, romance, and morality are themes that ricochet throughout the play. To his credit, director Trip Cullman deftly mines the humor and absurdity of these situations. Still, it’s the vulnerability of Kenneth Lonergan’s characters that makes for a mesmerizing stage play.

Bel Powley as Dawn, the rooky “girl” cop, is fetching in her innocence, but she really kicks up a storm when her bully boss, Bill, puts her down to cover up for his own wrong doing. A married man with kids and a bad sex addiction, he rules his beat with an iron thumb . . . or related appendage. In that role, Chris Evans, known for playing superhero roles in Marvel Comics movies, is staggeringly adept. Playing the cop like he grew up on these mean streets, he enjoys telling Dawn, and the audience, how wise, and good-looking he really is.

Still, Cera as Jeff, is super as the lonely, lost antihero. Sadly, all of the characters suffer the same fate — the belief that they’re never going to be anything. That deeply rooted inner conviction, which society gladly affirms, is the flaw which entraps them all.

But none, more unfairly than William. Trapped in a world that has lost its moral compass, he can do no right. To that end, Henry’s understated portrayal is certainly forceful.

David Rockwell’s steely gray set is a continually spinning world that reveals the interior and exterior of a generic American city. It exists as metaphor.