Edward Albee’s Three Tall Woman is a unique and vougish two act drama that is unlike anything that has been put on stage before, essentially because of the permutation that follows after act one, where the three previous female characters from the first act later shift in act two to three selves of the same person, representing three different stages of life that one of the characters lived. The character in question who is scrutinized is known only as “A”, a conservative patrician lady in her nineties who is of New England breeding and who is disdainful of some of the twists and turns that her life and family life has taken. The second represented woman is known only as “B”, a woman in her fifties who acts as “A’s” caretaker. By nature, she is world weary and sardonic, and her attitude indicates that she’d prefer doing something other to what she’s doing. Although she is edgy in a subtle way, she has a certain respect for “A” and learns from her. “C” is the third represented woman; she is a twenty something young woman, confident, and to some extent, hubristic. In act one, she is the smug smarty pants who is there on behalf of “A’s” law firm, there to assist with the billing and legalities which “A” has neglected to follow through with.
At the beginning of the play, “A” shifts in behavior from cantankerous and flummoxed to clear sighted and ruminative. Memories, both good and bad, are what hold her in place. And under the surface of that, there is even an element of schadenfreude, although it’s not fully expressed. While “A” is lingering in bed, there is an element of unspoken knowingness that she possesses, a knowledge of what will await “B” and “C” when they themselves reach her age, where they too will be bedridden, dependent, vulnerably exposed and privately humiliated after the body and mind slowly begin to break down. It is inevitable, even though by the demonstrated attitudes of “B” and “C” they clearly think they will be exempt. “C” has the arrogance of youth while “B” possesses an armor of tiredness and scorn that she thinks will help her gloss over any degree of disorderliness. “B” and “C” talk a great deal of “A” in the third person, as if she’s not even really there. They only get jolted back to “A’s” presence when lucidity returns to her, and she recounts certain periods in her life, episodes that are humorous, dirty and filled to the brim with all the experiences that make up a compelling human life.
In the second act, “A” is still bedridden, but “B” and “C” are transformed to “A” at different periods of her life. And together, they muse, debate and razz each other on a whole wide range of issues, from “A’s” upbringing, her mother and sister, to marriage and to getting old. Three Tall Women is a play whereby the viewer and or reader truly does get a three dimensional view of one whole person. By creating the selves from the different periods of “A’s” life, the moments of reflection of what was, wasn’t and what will be make this work both haunting and comforting. It is a play that is quite difficult to feel disengaged from, because the dialog is so real and heartfelt. Anybody could easily fit into these roles, both man and woman, young or old. I liked this play, because while there was a natural ebb and flow to it, I got jolted in the second act by the transformation of the characters. And it is the second act where the depth and meaning of the dialog really shine through, the baiting and raging, the bargaining and finally the acquiescence. You really do get to witness a single life that is thoroughly examined. Great play!
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