The mark of a great play is that it can mutate and change without really altering the playwright’s original intent.
This is certainly the case with the brilliant production of “Three Tall Women” running on Broadway. I’ve seen the production playing at the Golden Theatre in New York City twice and each viewing offered fresh insights.
The characters are identified only by the letters A, B and C. If you know the life of Edward Albee, who wrote the play, it is obvious from the start that 92 year old A is his mother.
The other characters are B, 52 year old health care worker and C an ambitious 26 year old lawyer.
At the end of act one, A has a stroke and the play moves to act two without an interval.
The women have altered. They are physically different. A’s broken arm is healthy and there is a sense of equality that wasn’t in the first segment.
They exist as if in an outer body experience as they share the stage looking upon the dying body of A. As they talk of their common history you realize each woman is A at different stages of her life.
The genius of Albee’s play is that this portrait of his mother becomes a look at every person who (like the play) alters and mutates until death when only then - they become a single entity.
Though “Three Tall Women” remains a story about one woman, this Joe Mantello directed work becomes an almost existentialist look at how even though we feel frozen in time and place we are in a constant state of evolution. This offers either the hope or dreaded thought that who we are does not determine who we will become.
The acting is brilliant. Glenda Jackson as the awful A is simply magnificent. She is fierce yet sympathetic, and even funny. She has, at the end of her life, found peace because she has learned selective memory. Her choice of what she remembers defines who she was. That ability to ignore how she affected others makes her both wise and monstrous.
Laurie Metcalf brings to B a sense of ironic contentment about middle age. She is the person who changed from C to A. It is B who suffers the pain of a loveless marriage, a child with whom she had no emotional connection and a life without identity. Metcalf’s interpretation of B as a woman who is resigned to what she was and to who she will become is the critical element in making this production so perceptive.
Alison Pill has the least juicy role as C, the young woman who learns that her future is the opposite of her dreams. She is ideal in showing us how much we lose, when our dreams slip away and we settle for a more practical reality.
On top of superb acting and intelligent direction, the technical elements of the production add an emotional tug not present in the script.
This is a masterful production. If you love intelligent drama that has an impact drama that will stay with you long after the curtain falls -,you must see “Three Tall Women” in a limited run through June 24.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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