Three Tall Women (1995)
Edward Albee’s off-Broadway production – New York
Elizabeth’s role: C
Characters: A, B, C
- A: She is a very old woman in her 90s. She is thin, autocratic, proud, and wealthy. She also has a mild case of Alzheimer’s disease.
- B: B is A’s 52 year-old version, to whom she is the hired caretaker. She is markedly cynical about life. Although she doesn’t enjoy working for A, she learns much from her.
- C: C is B’s 26 year-old version. She is present on behalf of a A’s law firm because A has neglected paperwork, payment, and such. She has all of youth’s common self-assurance.
- The Boy: The son of the three women, he does not play a speaking role but is the subject of much discussion amongst the three woman. A falling-out between the son and his mother(s) is the cause of much of A and B’s despair.
The protagonist of the play, a compelling woman of more than ninety years old, reflects on her life with a mixture of shame, pleasure, regret, and satisfaction. She recalls the fun of her childhood and her marriage, when she had an overwhelming optimism for her future. Yet she bitterly recalls the negative events that resulted in regret: her husband’s extramarital affairs, the death of her husband, and the estrangement of her gay son.
The woman’s relationship with her son is the clearest indication that Albee was working through some troubled memories of his own in Three Tall Women. The playwright was raised by conservative New England foster parents who disapproved of his homosexuality. Like the son in his play, he left home at eighteen. Albee admitted to the Economist that the play ‘‘was a kind of exorcism. And I didn’t end up any more fond of the woman after I finished it than when I started it.’’
Besides exorcising some personal demons with the play, Albee regained some respect among New York theater critics. Many critics despaired that the playwright, who showed such promise during the 1960s and 1970s, had dried up creatively. In fact, Three Tall Women was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1994, as well as the Drama Critics Circle, Lucille Lortel, and Outer Critics Circle awards for best play.
The play opens with the three major characters together in A’s bedroom. Throughout the scene A does most of the talking; she frequently reminisces and tells stories about her life as a younger woman. B humors her in addition with helping her do everyday things that are now very difficult for her to do alone (go to the bathroom, sit down, go to bed, etc). C, while occasionally getting a word in edgewise about the duties she is there to accomplish, usually is deterred because of the ease by which A goes into long-winded storytelling. C often scrutinizes over the contradictory and nonsensical statements made by A, but is discouraged by B who is clearly used to A and her habits. Act one ends when A has a stroke in the middle of one of her stories.
The play picks up with a mannequin of A lying in a bed. A, B, and C are no longer the separate entities of act one, but representations of A at different times in her life (the ages corresponding to the A, B, and C of act one). Most of the act involves each of the time-states talking and relating to each other. Since the A, B, and C of this act are all very cohesive (unlike the senile A of act one), the audience gets a much clearer insight into this woman’s past.
At one point the woman’s son comes in to sit by the mannequin. The time-states B and A (which are invisible to him) are not happy to see him because of the great deal of tension between them (which is explored in the play itself. C (also not seen by the son) is none the wiser because she is from too early in the woman’s life to know about her marriage and son). He says nothing throughout, and leaves before the end of the play.
The play ends with a debate between A, B, and C about the happiest moment in their life. A has the last word, with “That’s the happiest moment. When it’s all done. When we stop. When we can stop.”