Edward Albee’s autobiographical, Pulitzer Prize-winning Three Tall Women, if put in the Best Play category and if there is justice, will win the Tony. This prolific ode to women has never played Broadway. Make no mistake, Glenda Jackson is giving the performance of a lifetime. I just honestly can’t see anyone beating this performance, except the other two women in this cast.
Joe Mantello has lovingly unearthed this masterpiece on human forgiveness and understanding. The play is Albee’s release of the pain that his adoptive mother inflicted on his psyche. She was a socialite whose toxic cruelty alienated her gay son. Albee exposes in the first act her inhumanity and in the second act lovingly peels away the facades, showing us how women think in different stages of their lives.
The play introduces us to three women, an elderly A (Glenda Jackson), 52-year-old B (Laurie Metcalf), and 26-year-old C (Allison Pill). They are in the bedroom of A, who at 92, or is it 91, is riddled with dementia and is on her way out. She is sarcastic, rude, and immensely cruel. Her caretaker, B, knows how to deal with her curmudgeonly patient and does so with compassion. C is the young attorney sent to get A’s financial affairs together before it is too late. During the course of this act, A rambles on, telling her life’s stories. She is bitter with whiplashes of memory. Her insults are aimed at everybody, including the dead. C challenges the elderly woman but is discouraged by B who knows she does not have long to live.
In act two, all the actresses are A in different stages of her life. At 26, A is so hopeful, but lacking in confidence. She yearns for life and has no desire to become B or C. At 52, she is angry and bitter at having to take care of a husband who cheated without care and is now bed-ridden. At 92, she knows what her life holds in store. We hear about how she neither accepted, loved, nor understood her son and her regret is so deeply buried that she dismisses it. A keeps asking when is the happiest moment of her life. Her answer: “When it’s all done. When we stop. When we can stop.”
Mantello’s staging is superb as he shows us the hypocrisy of life. He is a master orchestrator, using Albee’s words like a symphony. He brings out an extraordinary performance from Allison Pill (The Newsroom). In Act One she is a force to be reckoned with. Ms. Pill truly shines in the second act, making us feel for this girl so full of hope. Laurie Metcalf makes this role – which is thought of as Marian Seldes – her own. We see her tenderness in the first act and her regret and steadfastness in act two. Then there is Glenda Jackson, who gives us a master class in acting. She embodies this role with a ferocity that is mesmerizing. Hands down, this is a Tony Award-winning role.
Miriam Buether’s set design and the superb costumes by Ann Roth add to the production.
Albee is gone, but his work lives on reminding us what insight he had into the human psyche.
There are performances and plays that will live long in your memory and this is definitely embedded.
Three Tall Women: Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th, until June 24th.