Glenda Jackson,Alison Pill ,Laurie Metcalf (c)
By Ron Cohen
Women, Edward Albee’s
meditation on aging, dying and death, is undoubtedly among the most vibrantly
alive shows on Broadway right now. Three superlative actresses – Glenda
Jackson, Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill -- tear into Albee’s incomparable
writing with intelligence, passion and wit in a production that shimmers with
While not a
final work – it emerged some 25 years before Albee’s death in 2016 – the play
has valedictorian wisdom about it. It carries a sense of coming to terms with
the tribulations of his own life, his thorny relationship with his adoptive
mother. First produced in Vienna in 1991 in English and directed by Albee, the
play was done Off-Broadway in 1995, refurbishing Albee’s reputation after a
series of misfires and winning a Pulitzer Prize – his third -- along with a
host of other awards.
revival marks its Broadway premiere, and under Joe Mantello’s impeccable
direction, it is hard to imagine a production more fulfilling of Albee’s
In the first
half of the piece, played here without intermission, a luxurious bedroom is
inhabited by three different women identified only as A, B and C. The home is
the domain of A, a cantankerous nonagenarian. She quibbles about her exact age,
as she recalls her youth, her married life, her wealth in elliptical terms.
Specific topics include her love of jewelry and horseback riding and revulsion
of oral sex. At the same time, she reveals her ingrained bigotry, suspicions
about her staff and her antagonism toward her son, who left the household years
ago. B is her sometimes patronizing but dedicated caretaker, and C is a young
woman, presumably a paralegal, who has come to clear up some outstanding
matters about A’s finances.
breathtakingly in the second half. The three women, we gradually discern, are
now the same person, but at different ages, and their reflections on life past
and life to come are increasingly provocative. The sense of life and death as
immutable but somehow unpredictable and grand is communicated in tangible
terms, as the women – or more correctly, the woman – reveal the happenings and
feelings of each particular phase of living. The shift may be confusing at
first, but it’s a majestic coup de théâtre, abetted by the totality of the performances.
Jackson’s portrayal of A is a masterful
amalgam of craft and art. Appreciation of it is, of course, heightened by the
knowledge that the 81-year-old actress only recently returned to the stage
after spending 23 years as a member of the British Parliament. Her comeback was
an acclaimed turn in the title role of King Lear in London, and in Three
Tall Women she takes on a role that echoes the emotional vistas of a Lear. Jackson infuses Albee’s sometimes diffuse dialogue with a precision that clarifies
everything, as her emotional scoring moves from a second-childhood giddiness to
the bottomless ferocity of old age, and in the second half she adds a sense of
grace as the character contemplates finality.
brings a wondrously droll pungency to B that works whether she is caretaker to
a difficult charge or middle-aged woman seeing life from a privileged central
point of view. It’s a posture that cracks startlingly when she expresses the
rage she feels toward her son.
As C, Pill
captures the snotty complacency of the young professional on her way up, then
shifts beautifully into the vulnerable and hopeful 26-year-old persona of A.
to the surreal richness of the story is the appearance of the estranged son
(Joseph Medeiros), standing silently beside his mother’s bed.
Mantello’s direction gives the script’s wit -- sometimes subtle, sometime
raucous -- full play along with its philosophical intimations and pathos. He
has delivered an ambiance in which the three actresses work together almost as
one single organism.
production also takes on an engaging whiff of glamour in the
period-and-character-defining costumes of Ann Roth and the set design of Miriam
Buether, the expensively tasteful look of A’s creamy-colored bedroom, glowing
under Paul Gallo’s lighting. Then at midpoint the set shifts almost eerily in
dimension, letting us know something is happening. And indeed, plenty happens
in the sense of thinking about life and death. Are there any topics more
titular characters, Three Tall Women stands high among the plentitude of
high-powered dramas being reborn on the Main Stem this season.
the Golden Theatre
252 West 45th
212 239 6200