TINY ALICE at Marin Theatre Raises Questions

Carrie Paff (Miss Alice) and Andrew Hurteau (Brother Julian) in Edward Albees's Tiny Alice, playing at Marin Theatre Company. Photo by Kevin Berne

TINY ALICE by Edward Albee. Directed by Jasson Minadakis . Marin Theatre Company (MTC), 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley, CA 94941. 415-388-5208 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 415-388-5208 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or www.marintheatre.org. June 2 – 26, 2011-06-16

TINY ALICE at Marin Theatre Raises Questions without answers

It may be theatrical sacrilege to question the genius of Edward Albee but after sitting through three hours (2 intermissions) of rather dense histrionic dialog, a song came to mind:

“What's it all about, Alfie?

Is it just for the moment we live?

What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie?”

Thus this review can be summed up with a question, “What’s it all about Alice/Albee?” At the end of the evening, you really won’t know.

However, there are many things to admire. The cast Featuring Richard Farrell, Rod Gnapp, Andrew Hurteau, Carrie Paff and Mark Anderson Phillips is a virtual Who’s Who of Bay Area Theatre and they give Albee’s excessive and often interminable use of allegory and internal ramblings their best shot and almost make the play palatable. Then too direction by Jason Minadakis is admirable in its simplicity allowing the actors to be the center of attention in this Gothic mystery. Yes, Gothic mystery where life is given to the inanimate replica of the enclosing castle. All this is enhanced by J. B. Wilson’s scenic design bathed by Kurt Landisman's gloomy lighting and Chris Houston's sound design with string compositions creating goose bumps.

When Tiny Alice opened in 1964 Albee was still basking in the glory of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that won five Tony Awards. Tiny Alice had six Tony nominations and Irene Worth won the award for Best Actress. However, the philosophical/theological discussions in the play became highly controversial. They still are in the MTC production that was last seen in the Bay Area 35 years ago when William Ball’s edited version was denounced by Albee. From what was seen last night, Ball was right to cut the show. A number of audience members did not stay until the end.

Julian (Andres Hurteau)is a lay brother who works as secretary to Cardinal (Richard Farrell) is sent on behalf of the Church to the mansion/castle of wealthy eccentric Miss Alice (Carrie Paff) who has promised twenty billion dollars to the Catholic Church. Julian is perplexed by his function there and why are Alice and the house staff asking personal questions? The staff includes a strange butler named Butler (Mark Anderson Phillips) who was a former lover to Alice. The other occupant is a hostile/volatile lawyer (Rod Gnapp) who has a hatred for the Cardinal a former school acquaintance. Then there is the aforementioned miniature model of the castle that is perfect in every detail and is as mysterious as the meaning of the play. There is a plethora of statements about faith versus dogma and man’s interpretation of God (created in his own image) and the “true” biblical God. It goes on and on.

Andrew Hurteau gives a superb performance of Julian’s anguished questioning of his true faith as he capitulates to the desires of Miss Alice and finally driven to utter confusion by his unholy treatment by the others. Rod Gnapp, builds on his reputation of always being cast as the bad guy. His first scene encounter with the Cardinal is a gem as he plays off the Cardinal’s hypocrisy. Carrie Paff’s Miss Alice is aloof, threatening, mysterious and terribly sexy. That takes work, but for Carrie it is just an extension of her fantastic acting ability. Mark Anderson Phillip has a challenge since Albee has not given the butler’s role definition and Phillip’s seem uncomfortable in the part.

One person in the Bay Area truly attuned to Edward Albee is Joe Besecker, author of the biographical Albee play Bee-Eye. If you are planning to go, give Joe a call and take him along since, if anyone can make sense of Tiny Alice he can.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com