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Tiny Alice by Edward Albee

At Vagabond Players through April 1

By R. Darryl Foxworth | Posted 3/28/2007

Tiny Alice

By Edward Albee

At Vagabond Players through April 1

Unleashed upon the world in 1964, Edward Albee's original rendition of Tiny Alice caused something of an uproar. And there's reason for all the chirping: This so-called "metaphysical mystery" is riddled with enough innuendo and biblical symbolism to confound even the most earnest theologians and New Testament historians.

The Vagabond Players' incarnation, however, under the subtle yet masterful direction of Steve Goldklang, is ripe with enough exceptional performances to mask an otherwise indiscernible plot. Tiny Alice begins with a mesmeric exchange between the outrageous caricature of Cardinal (Michael Styer) and scoundrel Lawyer (Frank B.Moorman), who has fallen from the church. But there is a matter of great importance once you move beyond the snappy wordplay, a matter regarding an enormous charitable donation to the church that quickly piques the interest of the red-robed eminence: A wealthy recluse, Miss Alice (Zarah Roberts), desires to grant the Catholic Church several billion dollars. Julian (Patrick Martyn), a naive, somewhat doting young layman, is sent to pay a visit to Miss Alice in order to handle the "odds and ends" of the transaction.

That synopsis was simple enough, but the plot begins to take enigmatic turns as Albee, usually not prone to beating his audience over the head with symbolism, inundates the dialogue with enough metaphysical elements and biblical allusions to spark insightful inquiry. It is at this point that you can either get lost by the plot or simply lose yourself in the clever, whimsical exchanges and excellent, albeit quirky, performances.

Certainly, the plot will confuse some, but the play does cause its audience to question the motives and meaning behind the confusion: Is it merely a thinly veiled diatribe against organized religion or something else? Billed as a mystery, Tiny Alice is absent of many of the genre's conventional contrivances. It lacks suspense but is heavy with intrigue, allowing you to await eagerly an ending revelation that never comes. The "mystery" of this admittedly strange play is never resolved, and you're left second-guessing your assumptions ad nauseam.

The far-flung plot doesn't distract from the performances of a well-assembled cast. Roberts brings a sort of eerie sexuality to her Miss Alice, so much so that you wonder how Julian manages to stave off her advances. Moorman is both sinister and disturbingly enjoyable as the lawyer, and Styer brings a refreshing, unexpected wit to Cardinal. And Richard T. McGraw's lends comedic and dramatic touches to his quick-witted, drolly named manservant, Butler. This cast makes this revival of Tiny Alice a welcome treat, even as its plot remains inchoate.

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