Critics have noted autobiographical elements in several of Albee’s plays, particularly Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962) and A Delicate Balance (1966). By his own admission, however, Three Tall Women is Albee’s most intentionally autobiographical work to date.
The protagonist of the play, a compelling woman of more than ninety years old, reflects on her life with a mixture of shame, pleasure, regret, and satisfaction. She recalls the fun of her childhood and her marriage, when she had an overwhelming optimism for her future. Yet she bitterly recalls the negative events that resulted in regret: her husband’s extramarital affairs, the death of her husband, and the estrangement of her gay son.
The woman’s relationship with her son is the clearest indication that Albee was working through some troubled memories of his own in Three Tall Women. The playwright was raised by conservative New England foster parents who disproved of his homosexuality. Like the son in his play, he left home at eighteen. Albee admitted to the Economist that the play ‘‘was a kind of exorcism. And I didn’t end up any more fond of the woman after I finished it than when I started it.’’
Besides exorcising some personal demons with the play, Albee regained some respect among New York theater critics. Many critics despaired that the playwright, who showed such promise during the 1960s and 1970s, had dried up creatively. In fact, Three Tall Women was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1994, as well as the Drama Critics Circle, Lucille Lortel, and Outer Critics Circle awards for best play.