Tiny Alice at Marin Theatre Company Feels Like the Edgiest Production of 1964

Categories: Review, Theater
TinyAlice_GnappPaff_HR-2.JPG
Kevin Berne
Rod Gnapp as Lawyer and Carrie Paff as Miss Alice
Tiny Alice Through June 26 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller (at La Goma), Mill Valley. Tickets are $33-$53; call 415-388-5208 or visit www.marintheatre.org. From a historical perspective, Marin Theatre Company's production of Tiny Alice is kind of a big deal.

The play hasn't appeared on a Bay Area stage since 1967. That's when an upstart company called A.C.T. -- in its first San Francisco season since moving from Pittsburgh -- staged a revised version of the script without permission from Edward Albee, its famously persnickety author. (As Auntie Mame observed, "When you're from Pittsburgh, you have to do something.") Albee attended a preview performance, discovered that the company hadn't paid for the rights to produce the play, and understandably threw a fit. Ever since then, he has insisted on personal approval of any director who wants to stage his plays.

That's only one reason Tiny Alice remains so seldom seen. Two other reasons: It's a three-hour religious allegory, and it hasn't aged terribly well. In fact, after catching Jasson Minadakis's scrupulously faithful staging at MTC, I'd say that the play is close to unwatchable.

The story, in brief: a cardinal (Richard Farrell) asks his doe-eyed lay secretary, Julian (Andrew Hurteau), to serve as liaison to a reclusive billionaire named Alice (Carrie Paff). Over the course of the play, Julian finds himself more and more in thrall to Alice, even as her former lovers -- a lawyer named Lawyer (Rod Gnapp) and a butler named Butler (Mark Anderson Phillips) -- plot the poor guy's downfall.

In her program notes, dramaturg Margot Melcon tells us that when the play premiered on Broadway in 1964, fresh off the mammoth success of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, critics were less than pleased. According to Melcon, reviewers "did not understand the play and, therefore, criticized it."

Frankly, the play isn't that difficult to understand, and it's not as impervious to criticism as Melcon suggests. Tiny Alice foregrounds its own blatant symbolism too self-consciously to qualify as obscure. And though A.C.T. was foolish to cut the text without the author's permission in 1967, the play could stand to be about 1,000 words shorter. It's long -- very long. The final scene in particular is inexcusable in its indulgence and ponderousness and excess.

Granted, that last scene might have improved with stronger casting. Hurteau makes for a bland Julian, even by ingénue standards. Other performers are more successful at capturing the play's peculiar rhythms; I especially liked Farrell's Cardinal and Phillips's primly menacing Butler. But the small pleasures afforded by their performances can't sustain this enterprise into its third hour.

Some may praise Minadakis for hewing so closely to the playwright's vision, but it's not like he had a choice. Albee keeps him in check. By insisting that directors continue to stage his work in strict adherence to his intentions, the playwright has inadvertently revealed Tiny Alice to be nothing more or less than the edgiest play of 1964.


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Marin Theatre Company

397 Miller, Mill Valley, CA

Category: General

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2 comments
elithea
elithea

not only that, but ACT also revived its own production of Tiny Alice in the mid-70s, so apparently no "fact" in this farcical review is true. i saw the both productions personally and credit the1967 production--which was an absolute sensation (you could look it up)--with first introducing me to the wonders of theater. something i can't imagine people will ever know now, since there are no theater companies even attempting ACT's quality and scope anywhere in this country. and it all leads to "criticisn" such as this? just sad.

lazioroamer
lazioroamer

I really detest flippant reviews such as this one.  Edward Albee had his play revived on college campuses due to the ACT producition.  Those of us who remember it can attest that it futhered the images that Albee started and maintained the mystery till the end.  Then an "upstart company".  Founded in Pittsburgh with the auspices of Carnegie Institute of Technology now CMU the first university in the US to give a degree to an actor and at that time the best theatre university in the country, which had the highest employment rate of any such university.  Furthermore, the quote about Pittsburgh is in the play of Auntie Mame which was written by Lawrence and Lee , both on the board of ACT as was Robert Kennedy.  ACT was bedeviled by the then critic Leon Katz, who has personally told me he felt ashamed of his criticism but did it only as he knew how great Bill Ball was and expected only the best.  When you totaled all of the monies given to all of the theatres in the US from the National Endowment of the Arts, that total did not add up to what ACT received.  The company was innovative in giving its company from the top actor to the lowliest hireling the possibility to take classes.  This is something only found in Europe.  Bill Ball nutured his company turning down offers to work with Peter Brook in Paris. Giving us people like Sada Thompson, Rene Auberjonois, Annette Benning, Denzel Washington, Marsha Mason.  Providing a Streetcar Named Desire that Tennesee Williams personally commended.  This is the upstart company.

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