[Full article published in The Clyde Fitch Report, March 31, 2018.]
Director Joe Mantello has crafted an exquisite waltz of a revival of Edward Albee’s 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning Three Tall Women, in which three phases of an unnamed woman’s life speak to, through, and around each other. The mute son who wafts upstage and is so often discussed is more a source of unresolved regret than a fully fleshed-out character. (This is, of course, the playwright and his famously unpleasant, irascible mother.)
Through the first act, this is a conventional play, with women of staggered ages: 20s, 50s and 90s, called A, B and C. The women are found on a familiar set: a storybook, 20th-century upper-class bedroom with sitting area, all crafted to an off-white, wainscoted, silk-curtained fare-thee-well by Miriam Buether. Our presiding matriarch, physically infirm A (Glenda Jackson), spends the act in an expensive robe, favoring a wounded arm, assisted from chair to offstage bathroom to bed by B (Laurie Metcalf), her mostly bemused caretaker, dressed in sensible shoes, slacks, silky blouse and sweater. The presenting action is the arrival of C (Alison Pill), a 20-something professional in a suit who cradles a briefcase, checks her makeup, inquires about finances, and represents A’s attorneys. Costumes by Ann Roth delicately suggest nuances of class and character for these women. No one is working class here.
Despite the rich, luxe surroundings, A is losing her faculties as well as control of her bodily functions. B is charming, quick-witted and patient, though sometimes gently manipulative. As a caregiver, she not only tends to A’s physical needs but comforts her when distressed and sides with her against the efficient, high-heeled, briefcase-toting interloper C. Manila folder open and pen in hand, we wonder what notes C is taking. Occasionally the dialogue muddies the relationships, suggesting that B might be preparing C (or C’s firm) to take over caretaking duties at some point. We never learn who these women really are.
The break between the intermissionless acts is physical and emotional one. A has a stroke or heart attack, the set is reversed, and the audience suddenly sees itself in an expansive, intentionally disorienting set with scrims cutting the playing areas in obscure ways. Is this no longer a memory play but a reflection play?