Alan Scott's Reviews > Three Tall Women

Three Tall Women by Edward Albee
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Mar 04, 2011

it was amazing

Three Tall Women is about Albee’s mother, her experiences, his relationship with her, and her struggles to make sense of and come to terms with the decisions she made throughout her. The play has two acts: Act 1 consists of a long conversation between a 90 year old woman, her caretaker/nurse, and a lawyer representing her estate. Act 2 gives us three versions of the same woman – one 26 years old, one 56 years old, and other in her 90s – all discussing their shared life. It is never stated directly that the woman in the play is Albee’s mother (for instance, the script lists the women as A, B, and C), but the similarities are telling. In the first act, we get a sense of the meaninglessness of life. The old woman has grown senile, and, as she discusses her life with her caretaker and lawyer, she continually gets confused regarding when or if certain events took place, who she was talking about (mixing people up), or why events or decisions were made. She laughs, weeps, remembers and forgets with torturous rapidity. At the end of Act 1 she has a stroke. Act 2 give us the three versions of the same woman discussing their shared life while walking around a deathbed. Their discussion is grim and bitter. The youngest (and most idealist) woman is horrified at what she later becomes (in the form of the two other women), and the older two women continually laugh at her naïveté. The lives and deaths of her parents are horrifically described (her own “loving” mother eventually becoming her sickly “enemy”); her marriage is revealed as motivated by money; her own and her husband’s infidelities are detailed; her husband’s nightmarish and painful death is also described; her continual compromises with her own ideals and dreams are listed; her lifelong, trenchant repressions come up again and again; and her disastrous relationship with her son is a major point of conversation. The middle aged woman often berated the oldest for lack of conviction – for instance, in visiting with their son again. The younger version berated the oldest for not living up to the youngest’s ideals. The oldest woman was the most resigned, the most accepting of her life. She never condemned the others, she would often simply smile and laughed while struggling to recall the youngest’s strange beliefs and hopes. Make no mistake, however, this is not a work without humor; but it is a gallows humor, an absurdist humor which asserts (via its jabs at naive idealism) that life is not without completely meaning, but, this meaning is never THE meaning one originally sets out to create. Nor is there anyway to map out or control where a life takes you. Nor is there any way to avoid the horrors and pains. The 26 year old woman looks into future and demands to know when her greatest joy will arrive, for surely, she has not had it already. The oldest woman responds, “Coming to the end of it [life], I think, when all the waves cause the greatest woes to subside, leaving breathing space, time to concentrate on the greatest woe of all – that blessed one – the end of it, Going through the whole thing and coming out […] Coming to the end of it; yes. So. There it is. You asked, after all. That’s the happiest moment.” Life is absurd, indeed, when one’s happiest moment in life is death. But, as the ladies might say, that’s what it is – deal with it! The experience I had viewing this play was a deeply cathartic one. Sometimes I feel as if, as I go through my day, I am constantly lied to: in the television and radio and internet ads; in all the superficial interactions a person encounters; in the infantile platitudes and clichés hurled at us meant to seduce us into different materialist or ideological ways of thinking; in all the strategic silences and distortions that friends and lovers and family tell each other because, always, the truth is too damn difficult. We live on lies. But, when I see an Albee play, one like Three Tall Women, I feel that, for once, finally, someone is being straight with me. It is a painful but liberated Truth that Albee bring us.
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