Let's start with what we know. The cast in Edward Albee's Tiny Alice, currently on the boards at the Mid-City Theatre, is spot-on. The same can be said for Diana Shortes' direction, Sean Creel's set, Su Gonczy's lighting and Veronica Russell's costumes. Almost everything else about the play is unknowable. The characters and story are enigmatic. As Albee said, "Symbolism should not be cymbal-ism" — meaning it should not be obvious.
A lawyer (Scott Michael Jefferson) enters the garden of a cardinal (Bob Edes). The two men loathe one another but eventually get down to business. The lawyer represents Miss Alice, who intends to donate $1 billion a year to the church. The Cardinal is so shocked by the prospect, he drops his customary royal "we" when referring to himself. The lawyer seizes on this slip with caustic humor.
The prelate's secretary, a naive, young lay brother named Julian (Ross Britz) arrives at the mansion of Miss Alice to arrange the details of the donation. He is greeted by Butler (Doug Barden), which is his name, not his occupation. Or perhaps it's both. Or neither. Nothing is easy to nail down. The most commanding object in the drawing room is a replica of the mansion. Butler invites Julian to look in at the drawing-room window of the replica, where he sees an exact miniature drawing room, including a replica of the replica. We take it the ever-diminishing series of replications will go on to infinity.
The lawyer enters. He keeps records on everyone, and he's troubled by six years missing from the record of Julian's life. Julian refuses to talk about those six years, and we later learn he had a loss of faith and spent time in a mental hospital.
Finally, Julian is taken to see Tiny Alice (or Miss Alice — it is unclear if they are the same person). She is old and hard-of-hearing. No, that was a disguise and she reveals herself to be a stylish young woman (Jennifer Growden). Alice says Butler was her lover and that the lawyer either has taken or is attempting to take Butler's place. Alice becomes interested in Julian, however, and pursues a menacing seduction. Also, Butler, the lawyer and Alice seem to be conspirators and hint that the liaison with Julian is both predetermined and doomed.
This skullduggery brings up a deeper question: Are the conspirators some kind of Mephistophelian team out to trap Julian's soul? God seems to be lurking somewhere, perhaps wishing to try Julian's faith. (It's worth noting that when God tried Job's faith, God himself was lured into it by Satan.)
The finale goes over the top into melodrama and mayhem. And here, unlike grand opera, the death scene aria is not accompanied by music. This is a top-notch production of a rarely produced play, and it offers plenty to contemplate. — Dalt Wonk