THREE TALL MOTHERS
Three Tall Women is Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize winning play about the stages of a woman's life. From optimistic youth to jaded middle age to controlling senior dowager, it takes three actresses at the top of their game to portray Albee's mosaic of female evolution.
Those critics who find it necessary to connect a great writer's work to his life have written that the women in Three Tall Womenare all Albee's mother - Albee was adopted as a baby and later was rejected by his mother when he told her that he was gay. But the women in Three Tall Women are more like Martha (Albee's portrait of a wife on the brink of madness in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf) than any real person could be.
Before we delve further into the play, let's get the magic out of the way. As the curtain rises, we see three women whom Albee has given the names A, B and C in the script but who have no names in the play. "A," played by Glenda Jackson, is a 90-something (she claims 91 but "C" insists that she is 92), rich old lady. Sitting in the splendor of her opulent bedroom, she is a mother not easy to like as she complains about everything and spews forth racist comments. "B" is the middle-aged caretaker played by Laurie Metcalf who makes light of A's tart comments. "C" is a young attorney, played by Alison Pill, who is there to straighten out A's tangled finances. The play seems to be about a woman at the end-stage of her life when everyone is waiting for her to die. Suddenly, A has a stroke and becomes incapacitated as the lights black out.
When the lights come back up (no intermission) we are in a world where even what we see is hard to explain. The elegant bedroom of the previous Act is now mirrored by an upstage bedroom whose upstage wall is all mirrors reflecting the identical twin sets. It appears that "A" is lying motionless in the mirrored bedroom while a young man comes to visit her. He is identified as A's son whom she has rejected for unstated reasons.
Now, the three woman return but they have been transformed. They are the same woman but at different stages of her life - young, middle-aged and old. They (or she) has married a man whom they belittle by claiming that he has a small penis. But, he is rich and so they put up with hubbie's petite penis and seek pleasure elsewhere. "C" cannot believe that her future is to be the eye-candy on the arm of short, ugly, stupid man, but "B" explains that it's worse - hubbie's a short, ugly, stupid man who cheats, as all men do because .... they are men.
Three Tall Women was Albee's second most revered play, but it was rarely staged well and rarely less than very confusing - until now. Director Joe Mantello has created a world in which Three Tall Women can finally be seen for what it is - Albee's crowning achievement as America's finest playwright of the second half of the 20th Century. Miriam Buether has designed the perfect set for this look into the kaleidoscopic life of a modern woman. Each woman thinks that she is living in the best of times for a woman: young and optimistic, middle-aged and experienced or old and wise. Ann Roth has clothed each actress so as to reveal her character - in the case of Jackson's "A" in regal purple throughout. Paul Gallo and Fitz Patton have echoed the magical set in their respective light and sound designs.
The end of the play brings to mind the scene in Orson Welles' Lady In Shanghai when the protagonists shoot it out in a House of Mirrors. What is real or perceived or true, is constantly changing in this slippery world of dying hopes and troubled dreams.
Glenda Jackson won 2 Oscars before 'retiring' to become a Member of the British Parliament. Unlike in America where movie and TV stars become politicians, Jackson is now a politician who has returned to acting. She commands the stage like few have done - except for Laurie Metcalf who keeps up with Jackson in an amazing pas de deux. Alison Pill is as good as she has ever been. But all three do something that Three Tall Women demands of its actresses if it is to be a successful production - balancing the multiple lives of a real woman on the slender thread of a theatrical performance, a thread like life itself that disappears as it happens into memory. It is a play that rivals the great portraits of women in movies such as Sunset Boulevard in ballets such as John Cranko's Eugene Onegin or in art such as Picasso's portraits of women. Albee's Three Tall Women lives, to paraphrase "A" , in the here and now. And that is the best place to experience a play - and to live a life.
John Golden Theater 252 W. 45th St. NY, NY 212-239-6200
Runtime 1 hr. and 30 min
Written by Edward Albee; Directed by Joe Mantello
Cast: Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill