Three Tall Women
Three Tall Women is a play by Edward Albee, which won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Albee’s third. Three Tall Women premiered June 14, 1991 at Vienna’s English Theatre Vienna Austria.
Edward Albee III who is known for works such as The Zoo Story (1958), The Sandbox (1959), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), and a rewrite of the book for the unsuccessful musical Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1966), an adaptation of Truman Capote’s 1958 novella of the same name. His works are considered well-crafted, often unsympathetic examinations of the modern condition. His early works reflect a mastery and Americanization of the Theatre of the Absurd that found its peak in works by European playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean Genet. Younger American playwrights, such as Paula Vogel, credit Albee’s daring mix of theatricality and biting dialogue with helping to reinvent the post-war American theatre in the early 1960s. Albee continues to experiment in works such as The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (2002).
- 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 52-year-old version of A, 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 a 26-year-old version of B. She is present on behalf of a A’s law firm, because A has neglected paperwork, payments, 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 among them. A falling-out between the son and his mother(s) is the cause of much of A and B’s despair.
The protagonist, a compelling woman more than 90 years old, reflects on her life with a mixture of shame, pleasure, regret, and satisfaction. She recalls the fun of her childhood and her early marriage, when she felt an overwhelming optimism. She also bitterly recalls negative events that caused her regret: her husband’s affairs and the death, 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. Raised by conservative New England foster parents who disapproved of his homosexuality, he left home at 18 like the son in this play. 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.”
Besides exorcising personal demons, Albee regained the respect of New York theater critics with the play. Many of them had 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, frequently reminiscing and telling stories about her life. B humors her, while helping her do everyday things that have become difficult to do alone (sitting down, going to the bathroom, getting into bed). C, while getting a rare word in edgewise about the duties she’s there to accomplish, is most often deterred by A’s slipping into long-winded storytelling. C often challenges issue A’s contradictory and nonsensical statements; but she is discouraged by B, who is clearly used to A and her habits. Act 1 ends when A, in the middle of one of her stories, has a stroke.
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 1, but represent A at different times in her life (their ages corresponding to those of A, B, and C in Act 1). Since A, B, and C in this act are all very coherent (unlike the senile A of Act 1), the audience gets a much clearer insight into the woman’s past.
At one point, the son comes in to sit by the mannequin. A and B (who are invisible to him) are not happy to see him, because of the rift between them. C (also unseen by the son) is none the wiser, because she is from a period in the woman’s life before her marriage. He says nothing throughout, and leaves before the end of the play.
The play ends with A, B, and C debating about the happiest moment in their life. A has the last word, saying, “That’s the happiest moment. When it’s all done. When we stop. When we can stop.”
Awards and Nominations
- 1994 Evening Standard Award for Best Play
- 1994 Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play
- 1994 Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play
- 1994 Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Off-Broadway Play
- 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Drama
References and Sources
Evening Standard Awards Retrieved on 8 October 2009
Ben Brantley (14 February 1994). “Review/Theater: Three Tall Women; Edward Albee Conjures Up Three Ages of Woman”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-05
- Three Tall Women at the Internet off-Broadway Database (Vineyard Theatre listing)
- Three Tall Women at the Internet off-Broadway Database (Promenade Theatre listing)
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