Edward Albee was not exactly fond of his mother. The headmaster of a boarding school Albee attended was quoted in the New Yorker as saying, “[He] dislikes his mother with a cordial and eloquent dislike which I consider entirely justifiable .... I can think of no other boy who ... has been so fully the victim of an unsympathetic home background ...” Albee's feelings about his mother show up in many of his plays, nowhere more overtly than in Three Tall Women.
In the first act, character A, based on Albee's mother, is an old infirm woman with control of neither her mind or her bladder. B is her aide; C is her lawyer. In the second act, A, B, and C are all character A, at different ages.
In the current, elegant Broadway production, directed by Joe Montello, the three women are played--superbly--by Glenda Jackson (A), Laurie Metcalf (B), and Alison Pill (C). Their costumes, by Ann Roth, add texture to the characterizations and are often beautiful (I particularly love Glenda Jackson's dress in Act 2). The scenery, designed by Miriam Buether, is both attractive and fascinating, using a mirror (or mirrors?) to give a sense of a full but split milieu, perhaps representing A's mind as well as her location. The lighting, by Brian MacDevitt, embraces and enhances the play and design elements.
Being an Albee play, Three Tall Women is both devastating and funny as it examines love, motherhood, marriage, life, and death. The show is surprisingly compassionate. Three Tall Women could easily have been Albee's revenge on his mother, yet he takes a kinder, more complex approach. I believe it is this compassion that makes the play as hard-hitting and excellent as it is.
(For an amazingly different take of Three Tall Women, check out Hilton Als' review in the New Yorker. It's hard to believe that he saw the same play I saw, but I guess, ultimately, he didn't.)
(full price $49 ticket, second-to-last row in the mezzanine)