*Three Tall Women,* 4/10/18

April 14, 2018

Richard, Karen, and I saw *Three Tall Women* on Broadway on 4/10/18.  It's an Edward Albee play from 1991, he won his third Pulitzer Prize for it.  This production is the Broadway debut of the play.  I saw it at Madison Rep sometime in the 90s and had always wanted to see it again, but went STARK RAVING MAD when I read that Glenda Jackson was doing a production on Broadway.  They soon announced that the other two actors would be Alison Pill and Laurie Metcalf and I went straight online and bought us three tickets.

 

It's a two-act play: the central character is a 92-year-old woman, A.  The other two characters in the first act are her 52-year-old caregiver, B, and a 26-year-old sent from her lawyer's office, C.  In the first act, B and C tend to A.  They're both frustrated by her, but also somewhat charmed.  She's a tough and difficult woman, but clearly she's led an interesting life.  B is more understanding, C is more dismissive.

 

Things change in the second act.  The 92-year-old woman is now unconscious in bed and the actress playing A is, it seems, the inner self.  B is her middle-aged self, and C is her young self.  They reminisce, interact with each other, confront each other.  As in the first act, C is incredulous that she could change so much as she grows older.  B is more accepting of this, but still not at ease with the difficulties that lie ahead.  A has a bird's-eye view of all of them, even, to a degree, of herself.

 

Karen and I have seen quite a few Albee plays together, and I said, on our way out, "It had such a fascinating balance of cynicism and compassion."  She said, "That's actually a good way to describe Albee in general."  It's a beautiful play, but challenging, in the best possible way.  It's always a thrill to be in the presence of such extraordinary writing - - the show was sold out and the audience was enthralled.

 

Let me talk a bit about the production before I get to the actors.  Joe Mantello was the director, clearly one of the best directors in the business.  He kept things smooth and seamless, he made the unreal transition into the second act in an effortless way, like it was magical realism, a trip through the looking glass.  The set design was by Miriam Buether, and she had better win the Tony!  I have never been so blown away by the set design for a play, it took me about ten minutes to even figure out what I was looking at in the second act, it was a mind-blowing use of design, mirrors, and theatrical magic.

 

We had three amazing actors.  Alison Pill played C - - her role is a tricky one, because she's the most unlikable of the three.  But Pill made her a fully fleshed person, I could recognize my younger self in her.

 

Laurie Metcalf was B, she used the most humor in her performance.  She's had the most time onstage recently of the three, and her complete ease was wonderful to watch.  Her character is the most surprising, she makes the most frequent shifts between cynicism and compassion.  She has a tough job, serving as the middle man between the other two.

 

Glenda Jackson was the reason this production happened.  She's best known in the US for her film work, she won two Best Actress Oscars for *Women in Love* and *A Touch of Class.*  She was described, in the 70s, as "a thinking man's Brigitte Bardot."  Which I think was supposed to be a compliment.  She started her career at the Royal Shakespeare Company and did a little work on Broadway - - she did *Strange Interlude* on Broadway in 1985, which was filmed for PBS, and I watched that over and over. But the most impressive part of her bio is that she was a member Parliament from 1992 to 2015, for the Labour Party.

 

I've loved Jackson for ages and never thought I'd have a chance to see her onstage.  She played King Lear in London last fall and I seriously tried to go see it, but the timing wasn't right.  As I mentioned at the start of this review, I was STARK RAVING MAD when I heard that she was doing this play, it was a thrilling match of an actor and a play.  She surpassed my expectations.  Just hearing her voice was a thrill, she uses her voice in such an old school, theatrical way.  She didn't shy away from the unattractive side of her character in the first act, which curiously made her more human, and made the grace and poise of the second act more powerful.

 

I'm saying this a lot lately, but this is why I live in New York.

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