Post Productions Focuses On Specifics With Latest Play

Saturday February 19th, 2022

Posted at 7:44am

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Michael k. Potter
Managing Director, Post Productions

Despite initial hesitations, a local theatre group is starting the year with a tall order.

Taking place at the Shadowbox Theatre (located at 103b – 1501 Howard Avenue,) Post Productions’ performance of Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women is well underway. Having opened on Friday, February 11, the play marks the theatre group’s first production of their 2022 season.

Although it had been considered for a while, the show was originally put off for an unusual reason.

“We’d considered producing Three Tall Women back in 2018,” said co-director/producer, Michael K. Potter. “At that time, although I thought the script was excellent, I didn’t want to produce it because I hated the title. It’s a terrible title. How do you get audiences to come see a play called Three Tall Women?”

Despite this, everyone continued thinking of the production. As a result, those involved finally decided to go ahead with it in 2020: Originally intended to close the 2021 season, Covid-19 delays then pushed the play to its current spot.

Featuring three women only known as A, B and C, the Pulitzer Prize-winning story opens by exploring the life of 92-year-old A (Mary Grace Weir.) A wealthy woman with dementia and failing health, she relies on 52-year-old live-in nurse B (Fay Lynn.) When 26-year-old estate lawyer C (played by Rebecca Mickle)) comes to ask about unpaid bills, the elder tells both women stories about her past. Through this, audiences learn the differences between the three characters who bond despite some initial tension.

At the end of act one, A suffers a stroke and must face the past in act two. This dramatic turn also reframes B and C in the show as they now portray A at ages 52 and 26 respectively.

With each actress needing so much versatility, making the right casting choices was crucial.

“We needed actresses who could believably be completely different from each other in one moment then similar to each other in the next,” said Potter. “We also needed actresses who could believably make the journey from hating each other to liking each other in the course of an hour.”

Wanting audiences to understand lives unlike their own, co-directors Lynn and Potter began developing their approach in summer 2020. After being put on hold to produce other shows, the two picked things up again a year later and held auditions that September.

Needing intelligence and perceptiveness, the play creates unique challenges for actors. These traits are necessary to find nuance and subtlety in its script. being attentive and curious suits those in each role as well: Playing the same character at different points in their life, all three needed to emulate the same movements, gestures, postures and vocal mannerisms.

Focusing on finer details is what allows Three Tall Women to connect with audiences too.

“Years ago [U2’s] Bono said something that has resonated with me ever since, which is ‘You focus on the specific to find the universal,'” said Potter. “To find the elements of a story or a theme that are relevant to everyone’s lives, you dig deeply into the specific details of a specific life. The universal is in the particular. With Three Tall Women, we were presented with a unique opportunity to show people just how true this is.”

Attempting to understand his mother, Albee wrote the play trying to find empathy. Both hating each other, the semi-autobiographical play shows audiences minute information of A’s life. This takes shape in her long term memories of life as a younger woman along with B and C’s reactions.

It eventually leads somewhere else by act two.

“In the first act the nurse and lawyer come to understand and empathize with this woman through the way the details of her life make them feel,” said Potter. “In the second act, when all three actresses are playing the same woman at different stages of her life, what we’re really seeing is a woman trying to understand and empathize with herself, with the woman she was and the woman she will become.”

After many actors auditioned, three choices were eventually made. Despite this however, two had to drop out. This meant that Weir, a close runner-up for A, was brought in to play the elderly character. With B’s runner-up already making other commitments, Lynn stepped in to play the 52-year-old. Because of this, Potter joined the project to co-direct with her.

From there, the two began shapeing what the play itself would become.

“For act one we focused on strongly differentiating A, B and C from each other so that each character had a distinct personality, physicality and attitude,” said Potter. “For act two we focused on trying to make A, B and C as alike as possible, despite the differences between them by virtue of their age and what they’ve experienced.”

When it came to set design, act 1 was intended to be as naturalistic as possible. Portraying an elderly woman’s bedroom, it grounds the play in a recognizable reality, “before things get weird,” according to Potter. This is done with an elderly woman’s wallpaper, furniture and important moments from her life. The goal is to make it recognizable enough for audiences to see themselves in A.

Put together by Lynn, this environment became the production’s biggest challenge however.

“Our usual set designer Matthew Burgess is back in Stratford where he was employed until the pandemic struck in March 2020,” said Potter. “So [Lynn] took it upon herself to design, build and paint the set. It’s only the second time she’s taken these challenges on alone. She also had to do this as cheaply as possible while creating a bedroom that belonged to a wealthy woman since The pandemic has drained our finances.”

Even so, the co-director and cast feel like Lynn’s hard work was a success. With lots of detail and character, the finished product doesn’t come off looking cheap.

Pulling it all together, hitting the right tone also relied on research, rehearsals and intuition.

“I focus on learning as much as possible about the playwright, characters, structure, story flow and themes,” said the co-director. “Some of the choices we made in directing Three Tall Women were reactions and intuitions that came to us when we first read it. Other choices were influenced by our research and especially by carefully attending to what was developing organically among the cast.”

Looking to the future, performances in the 2022 Edele Winnie Women’s Monologue Competition have been rescheduled. Now taking place on March 4 and 5th, audience members will give contestants a score and help select the top three winners. Tickets are $20 each and can be purchased on the theatre group’s website.

In addition, Post has also launched a newsletter that spotlights events in local theatre.

“Our newsletter PostScripts now has nearly 500 subscribers,” said Potter. “Subscribers, who we refer to as Friends of Post Productions, get access to discounted tickets to our productions, advance notice about productions, events, courses and workshops at The Shadowbox Theatre. There’s also a listing of what’s coming from other theatre companies in the Windsor-Essex region. It’s a one-stop-shopping newsletter delivered right to your mailbox! People can subscribe by emailing [email protected] with the subject line “Subscribe”.”

Three Tall Women is currently being performed at the Shadowbox Theatre on February 18th, 19th, 24th, 25th and 26th. Doors open at 7:30pm for all shows with an 8pm  start time. Tickets can be purchased online for $25 each. Those attending must also provide proof of vaccination (two doses minimum) and be fully masked.

Given the world’s current divisiveness, the play remains more relevant than ever. Despite this, the co-director thinks that any good story should always resonate regardless.

Even so, Potter hopes Three Tall Women gives audiences a perspective that’s especially timely.

“A good story is always relevant,” he said. “Any story that becomes irrelevant wasn’t a good story to begin with. I hope people leave Three Tall Women thinking differently about those around them and about their own lives. I hope they’re moved to really try understanding and empathizing with other people – especially people they don’t like. I hope the play inspires people to think deeply about who they are, who they used to be and who they will become with acceptance and grace.”

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