Albee, Edward (Vol. 86)
Edward Albee Three Tall Women
Award: Pulitzer Prize for Drama and New York Drama Critics Circle Award
(Full name Edward Franklin Albee III) Born in 1928, Albee is an American playwright, scriptwriter, poet, and short story writer.
For further information on Albee's life and works, see CLC, Volumes 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 11, 13, 25, and 53.
Three Tall Women (1991), Albee's third work to win a Pulitzer Prize, begins with a meeting between an elderly woman in her nineties known as A, her middle-aged care-taker B, and a young lawyer named C who has come to help A settle her affairs. As the three women interact, each becomes aware of and impatient with the others' shortcomings: the narrow-minded A, lamenting her advancing years, is in poor health and feels betrayed by family members; B is frustrated by her employer's numerous demands; and C, somewhat naive and temperamental, is shocked by what she considers the older women's vulgarity, prejudices, and lack of tolerance. The first act ends as A suffers a stroke, and in subsequent scenes Albee departs from a strictly linear plot, having all three characters appear as various manifestations of A at different times during her life. Through this use of multiple perspectives, Albee addresses various stereotypes associated with youth, middle age, and old age, and meditates on such issues as the evolving nature of personal identity, the emotional and intellectual ramifications of the aging process, and the relationship between past, present, and future. Familial ties are also central to Three Tall Women, which focuses in part on A's turbulent relationship with her homosexual son, and the play, described by Albee as a form of "exorcism," is considered largely autobiographical—the character A was based on Albee's mother and the relationship between parent and playwright mirrors that of A and her son. Critical reaction to Three Tall Women has been generally positive. Although commentators have consistently identified C as the weakest character in the play, they have lauded A and B as well-defined portraits and praised Albee's focus on universal concerns. Many critics have additionally asserted that Three Tall Women is the most successful work Albee has written in years, rivalling such classics as The Zoo Story (1959), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), and Seascape (1975); they also note that due to its autobiographical content Three Tall Women offers invaluable insights into Albee's life and career. John Lahr observed: "Far from being an act of revenge or special pleading, the play is a wary act of recon-ciliation, whose pathos and poetry are a testament to the bond, however attenuated, between child and parent. Three Tall Women bears witness to the son's sad wish to be loved, but with this liberating difference: the child is now finally in control of the parent's destiny, instead of the parent's being in control of the child's."
The Zoo Story (drama) 1959
The Death of Bessie Smith (drama) 1960
Fam and Yam (drama) 1960
The Sandbox (drama) 1960
The American Dream (drama) 1961
Bartleby [adaptor; from the short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street" by Herman Melville] (opera) 1961
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (drama) 1962
The Ballad of the Sad Café [adaptor; from the novella by Carson McCullers] (drama) 1963
Tiny Alice (drama) 1964
A Delicate Balance (drama) 1966
Malcolm [adaptor; from the novel by James Purdy] (drama) 1966
Everything in the Garden [adaptor; from the drama by Giles Cooper] (drama) 1967
Box (drama) 1968
Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (drama) 1968
All Over (drama) 1971
Seascape (drama) 1975
Counting the Ways: A Vaudeville (drama) 1977
∗Listening: A Chamber Play (drama) 1977
The Lady from Dubuque (drama) 1980
Lolita [adaptor; from the novel by Vladimir Nabokov] (drama) 1981
Finding the Sun (drama) 1983
The Man Who Had Three Arms (drama) 1983
Marriage Play (drama) 1987
Three Tall Women (drama) 1991
Fragments: A Concerto Grosso (drama) 1993
∗This work was first produced as a radio play.
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SOURCE: A review of Three Tall Women, in Theatre Journal, Vol. 44, No. 2, May, 1992, pp. 251-52.
[In the following review of a production of Three Tall Women directed by Albee, Luere offers praise for the play, comparing it to Albee's previous works and noting his focus on family, guilt, love, and identity.]
Receptive audiences at Vienna's English Theatre, which in the past has been host to Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter, Lanford Wilson, are hailing the new Edward Albee offering [Three Tall Women], giving the play's three-in-one heroine emotional precedence over men and women in his previous dramas. In stirring anecdotes, the eldest third of Albee's strong composite heroine, a ninety-year-old with a prodigal son, divulges her prejudices, her attitudes and insights on the lack of substance in the upper crust into which she has married. The two other onstage characters, materializations of her self before childbirth and at middle age, hear the older component bemoan her husband's and friends' lack of backbone or moral fibre. Regrettably, her disillusion has led her to replace the legendary milkman or back seat of a car with the family's groom and stable.
As in previous plays, the author is more concerned with characters and situations than with problems and their trite resolution. Albee's power to generate real characters is legendary; and his delicate drawing of...
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SOURCE: "Edward Albee Conjures Up Three Ages of Women," in The New York Times, February 14, 1994, pp. C13, C16.
[In the following excerpt, Brantley comments on Albee's treatment of life, death, aging, identity, and personal experience in Three Tall Women.]
The woman identified simply as A in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, the startlingly personal work that is receiving its New York premiere at the Vineyard Theater, shares many of the linguistic and psychological traits common to characters in Mr. Albee's more abstract plays. She is given to questing reiteration of certain phrases that take on different shadings in the repetition; she shifts disjunctively between arrogant complacency and fearful disorientation; and her memory slides and stumbles like a neophyte skater. "I can't remember what I can't remember," she says.
But A is a woman whose speech patterns are not merely stylized representations of Mr. Albee's enduring obsessions with the elusiveness of personality and its self-deceptions. There is a purely naturalistic reason for her behavior. Played with virtuosic reversals of mood by the superb Myra Carter, A is a 92-year-old woman (or is it 91, as she insists?) who is on the threshold of death. And the way she talks is rooted in the very familiar struggle of the aged with encroaching senility.
Her presence reinforces what has always been implicit in the...
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SOURCE: "Time—and Again," in The New Leader, Vol. LXXVII, No. 2, February 14-28, 1994, pp. 22-3.
[Kanfer is an American novelist, playwright, short story writer, essayist, scriptwriter, and critic. In the excerpt below, he offers a mixed review of Three Tall Women, arguing that "this elegant minor effort gives very little reason to cheer" and lacks the qualities that characterize Albee's best works.]
Whatever happened to Edward Albee? The young playwright of the early '60s, he began his career with small but auspicious Off-Broadway efforts like The American Dream and The Sandbox, both about the sorrow and bitterness of old age. His first full-length work, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1963), focused on ambition and self-deception, dazzled Broadway audiences, won critics' awards, and announced the arrival of a major talent. Albee went on to earn two Pulitzer prizes (for A Delicate Balance and Seascape) and to write many original plays, plus adaptations of other people's writings (including Carson McCullers' The Ballad of the Sad Café, and Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita).
His reward for all this industry has been a latter-day neglect. Too many of Albee's major works have failed on the main stem, and lesser plays have not prospered Off-Broadway. Who remembers The Lady from Dubuque, The Man Who Had Three Arms, Finding the...
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SOURCE: "Albeecentric," in The Village Voice, Vol. XXXIX, No. 9, March 1, 1994, pp. 83, 86.
[Feingold is an American critic and translator. In the following excerpt, he assesses the strengths and weaknesses of Three Tall Women.]
Every writer knows that the hardest task in writing is to find your center. Once you're there, words, thoughts, events, characters, ideas, whatever, will flow freely. And the results, after some contemplation, will be far easier to shape and polish than if you had forced them. The hard part is getting to that sacred place at the core of your being from which all literary blessings flow.
On this count, the renaissance of Edward Albee is one of the happiest events in the history of American playwriting. After the era of forced writing that brought us treats like Counting the Ways and The Man Who Had Three Arms, and the era of self-imposed exile when he no longer cared to face the critical attacks such plays provoked, we have two newish Albee plays [being produced this season], one 11 years old (Finding the Sun) and one written within the last four (Three Tall Women). Both are alive, peopled, fresh, funny, a little harrowing, and tangibly authentic—the good qualities of Albee's exciting early plays. They come from the center; far from offering critical analysis or captious reservations, the press should probably sponsor parades…....
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SOURCE: A review of Three Tall Women, in The Nation, New York, Vol. 258, No. 10, March 14, 1994, pp. 355-56.
[Appelo frequently writes for Entertainment Weekly. In the review below, he favorably assesses Three Tall Women and discusses the insight it gives into Albee's life and works.]
Photos reveal Edward Albee to be stricken with the Dick Clark Syndrome: an inexplicable imperviousness to physical decay. Instead, time has taken its toll on his festering reputation.
But I'm thrilled to report that Albee the artist lives. The Vineyard Theater production of his 1991 play Three Tall Women, his first big New York premiere in over a decade, should help reverse his audience's exodus. No more the noisy young shockmeister pop star, now Albee plays unplugged, still singing, softly, his bitter old themes of domestic-cum-cosmic discord. Rod Stewart unplugged is a lazy disgrace, Clapton a drab craftsman, but Albee is more like Neil Young: chastened by age, sad where once he soared, yet still quavering on.
Three Tall Women is largely a portrait of Albee's late, very estranged adoptive mother at 92, though the character querulously insists she's 91. (In a 1966 Paris Review interview, Albee querulously insisted he was 37; the interviewer reminded him he'd be 38 when the piece was published.) James Noone's set neatly conveys the old...
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SOURCE: "The Rehabilitation of Edward Albee," in The New Republic, Vol. 210, No. 14, April 4, 1994, pp. 26, 28.
[Brustein is an American educator, critic, and actor who frequently writes about drama. In the highly positive review below, he discusses Albee's focus on the past and present in Three Tall Women, praising it as "a mature piece of writing."]
A number of years ago, while praising Edward Albee's much reviled stage adaptation of Lolita, I commented on the startling reverses in the fortunes of this once ionized American dramatist: "The crunching noises the press pack makes while savaging his recent plays are in startling contrast to the slavering sounds they once made in licking his earlier ones…. If each man kills the thing he loves, then each critic kills the thing he hypes … brutalizing the very celebrity he has created."
I was generalizing not only from Albee's career, but from that of Miller, Williams and Inge, for although I had often depreciated works by these playwrights myself, it struck me as unseemly that mainstream reviewers were displaying such fickleness toward their favorite Broadway icons. This may sound territorial, but it's not. Readers expect more intellectual critics to express dissent about an overinflated dramatic work, but it is an entirely different matter when those with the power to close a show become so savage and dismissive in their...
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SOURCE: "Critical Winds Shift for Albee, A Master of the Steady Course," in The New York Times, April 13, 1994, pp. C15, C19.
[In the article below, based in part on a conversation with Albee, Richards provides a brief overview of Albee's career, relates the playwright's reaction to winning the Pulitzer, and discusses the autobiographical basis of Three Tall Women.]
For Edward Albee, the long exile is over.
Hailed more than 30 years ago for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but dismissed in the 1970's and 80's for what was perceived as his increasingly abstract style, he won a third Pulitzer Prize yesterday, for Three Tall Women, and reclaimed his position as one of America's leading dramatists.
"I suppose I will be very warm and cuddly and pleased with myself for a while," he said by telephone from Texas, where he is teaching a course in play writing at the University of Houston. "I never counted on it. I think you should always be surprised by awards and prizes, since you're always surprised when you don't get them."
Until recently, Mr. Albee had not had a new play produced in New York since The Man Who Had Three Arms was clobbered by the critics in 1983. The last of his dramas to receive a generally favorable reception was Seascape in 1975. Also a recipient of the Pulitzer, it nonetheless closed after 65 performances....
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SOURCE: "Sons and Mothers," in The New Yorker, Vol. LXX, No. 13, May 16, 1994, pp. 102-05.
[Lahr is an award-winning American critic, nonfiction writer, playwright, novelist, biographer, and editor. In the following excerpt, he lauds Three Tall Women as "a wary act of reconciliation, whose pathos and poetry are a testament to the bond, however attenuated, between child and parent."]
For one terrible moment at the beginning of Three Tall Women, the pretension that has sunk so many of Edward Albee's theatrical vehicles in his middle years looms menacingly on the horizon. "It's downhill from sixteen on," says one of the women, a middle-aged character called B, who takes care of a rich, imperious, senile old bird called...
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Henry, William A., III. "Albee Is Back." Time 143, No. 8 (21 February 1994): 64.
Highly laudatory review of Three Tall Women. Henry asserts: "Out of the simplest and most familiar material—a woman of 90-plus years coping with the infirmities and confusions of the moment and looking back on a life of gothic excess—Albee fashions a spellbinder."
Kroll, Jack. "Trinity of Women." Newsweek CXXIII, No. 8 (21 February 1994): 62.
Offers a favorable assessment of Three Tall Women, calling it one of Albee's best works.
Weber, Bruce. "On Stage, and Off." The New York Times (15 April 1994): C2.
Relates events surrounding the decision to award Albee the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the merits of the other nominees.
(The entire section is 174 words.)