Tiny Alice

Newcity - September 27, 1990

Aristotle counted spectacle — the costumes and set — as the least important element of theatre. And ordinarily we agree. Still, in the case of Touchstone Theatre's sumptuous, perfectly directed, flawlessly acted version of Edward Albee's Tiny Alice, we'll make an exception. In this rare case, the spectacle is so well woven into the fabric of the show that it would be a significantly less successful piece of theatre were it performed on a bare stage with whatever costumes the theatre had on hand.

Certainly Kevin Snow's beautiful, breathtakingly simple set — a series of panels, one side of which is tricked up to look like a draped window, the other painted to pass for a panel of dark, rich, hard wood — proves infinitely flexible for indicating the various scenes in the play: the Cardinal's wall-enclosed garden, the hardwood-paneled mansion library, Miss Alice's room with its draped windows. And just as certainly, Julie A. Nagel's wonderful eye-feasting costumes work also to add a thrilling, decadent elegance to Albee's deceptively simple suspense story. In particular, the scary black dress Miss Alice wears during her seduction of Brother Julian, with its plunging neckline and its black feathery fringe, makes Miss Alice look every bit the bird of prey she is meant to be.

Of course, all this marvelous finery and interior design would be a waste if the actors are not worth watching. Happily, Ina Marlowe's five-actor cast proves to be more than capable of making Albee's incredibly difficult text live on the stage. Alfred H. Wilson (as the bitter, hate-filled lawyer), Larry Hart (as the kindly butler named "Butler"), and Kendall Marlowe (as the luxury- loving Cardinal) are simply wonderful in their various roles. Amanda Sullivan, although quite capable when asked to be bitchy, sexy or seductive, stumbles slightly when trying to bring out Miss Alice's more positive qualities: her maternal feeling for Brother Julian, her ambivalence about the whole evil plot the Lawyer hatched to get even with the Cardinal.

Overall, however, Ina Marlowe's production comes as close to perfection as anyone ought to expect for Albee's bizarre little play. If Touchstone's production had merely made Albee's three-act meditation on language and the corruption of power interesting I would have bean impressed. But the fact that Ina Marlowe and Company were able to turn a deadly difficult text into an absolutely absorbing production (the three acts fly by) in which all of the elements of theatre — acting, sets, costumes, lighting — are perfectly balanced, wins this critic's undying admiration,

Jack Helbig

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