Three Tall Women Essay - Critical Essays

Edward Albee

Critical Context

When he wrote Three Tall Women, Albee’s celebrity had faded. The success of such earlier plays as The Zoo Story (pr. 1959, pb. 1960), The Sandbox (pr., pb. 1960), and his most notable critical triumph, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, was eclipsed by a series of plays that received critical condemnation, notably Tiny Alice (pr. 1964, pb. 1965), A Delicate Balance (pr., pb. 1966), Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (pr. 1968, pb. 1969), and The Lady from Dubuque (pr., pb. 1980).

As a result of these failures, Albee had difficulty finding anyone willing to produce Three Tall Women. Finally, after playwright and director Glyn O’Malley encouraged Albee to submit the play to Vienna’s English Theater, the play was accepted for its Vienna premier solely on the basis of the first act. The second act was not yet written and did not exist when Albee flew to Vienna for rehearsals. He finished the play in a hotel room, writing under considerable pressure.

The Vienna premier was promising, although the reviews were mixed. Nevertheless, some American producers, who flew to Vienna to see the play, found it far superior to Albee’s work of the prior decades. Although he still failed to find a New York producer willing to bring the play to Broadway, Albee’s play generated interest from Lawrence Sacarow, the founder and artistic director of the River Arts Repertory in Woodstock, New York, where it had its first production in the United States. Here it played to packed houses, justifying a one-week extension of the play’s run. The drama, although it did not play on Broadway, went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in drama. It redeemed Albee’s reputation at a time when it was in need of redemption.