Last night we saw Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women (his third Pullitzer) at Court Theater. It is a powerful and poignant play, with three riveting actresses (Mary Beth Fisher, Lois Markle, and Maura Kidwell), simply and creatively directed by Charlie Newel. In the first act we watch a 92 year old woman (less than loosely based on Albee’s real adoptive mother), with her caretaker, and with a representative from her lawyer’s office, remember, repeat, ramble, and forget parts of her life. Act I ends with the older woman having a stroke.
In the second act, with the old woman in her bed on life support, the three actresses come on stage as three stages of the old woman’s life: the representative from the lawyer’s office becomes the old woman at 26 years old, the caretaker the old woman at 52, and, of course, the old woman herself. The conversations, arguments, advisements, and clashes between these generational parts of a person’s life, each interpreting the experiences of their life from their own perspective, each emotionally charged with what the meaning of life is or ought to be, each looking to the other parts to try and understand what the future holds are draining and uplifting, captivating and disquieting. “I will never become you,” the 26 year old self says to herself as the 92 year old.
Because this story is not lost in generalities, but grounded in very real specifics of a very particular kind of life, the power is more truthful, impacting, and more universal. As Lois Markle says (see video below), this play is “utterly human.” This is made absolutely visceral in the cathartic transformation of the audience from disliking the person who is the 92 year old to complete sympathy with her by the end of the play.
This is a short video of the actresses and the director talking about the play.
This masterful play still haunts me today.
I have already begun to write a piece from my younger self to the self I am now. It is emotionally thorny and difficult …. but with the promise of catharsis.