(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Pulitzer Prize award-winning Three Tall Women premiered in New York City on March 18, 1994. The play proved a popular success and ran for two years, first opening at the Vineyard Theatre and later continuing its run at the Promenade Theatre. It was widely hailed by the theater critics and won not only the Pulitzer, but also the Drama Critics Circle Award, the Lucille Loritel Award, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for best play. The drama’s critical success rejuvenated Albee’s fading playwriting career, which had been in a slump for more than a decade.

The play is structured in two acts populated by three women generically named A, B, and C. The setting of act 1 is a “wealthy bedroom, French in feeling,” the residence of A, a dying matriarchal figure in her nineties who is attended by her companion B, who is fifty-two. The play opens with C, twenty-six years old and A’s young lawyer, arguing with A about her true age. The old woman fiercely rails on about her life, her health, her approaching death, and the many painful memories that she still carries. A is especially embittered because she believes that her estranged homosexual son does not come to visit, although B tells the audience that he does. Despite B’s attempts at conciliation between the two women, C’s character reacts negatively to the old woman. A lively, sometimes hostile, funny, and often profane discussion erupts among all three women. The act concludes when A’s majestic, Lear-like character suffers a stroke.

Act 2 opens full of...

(The entire section is 633 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Three women sit in an elegant bedroom that is tastefully furnished in pastel colors and silks. The bedroom belongs to the eldest woman, A, who announces that she is ninety-one years old. The middle-aged woman, B, is her paid caregiver, who clearly has long experience helping A with her daily routine, escorting her to the bathroom, placing her pillows, and humoring her mood swings. The young woman, C, appears to be a newcomer, unfamiliar with A’s personal habits and her autocratic attitudes. She comes with papers, and eventually it emerges that she has come from the law firm that handles A’s affairs to try to sort out some missing bills.

As C tries to get a sense of her elderly client, A tries to impress her new audience with her power. When C tries to argue, A rebuffs her with total contradiction and condescension. Her authority dissolves into confused tears, however, and C begins to understand the extent of A’s physical and mental deterioration. B explains to C that A is often incontinent and is suffering from osteoporosis and an atrophying arm that she refuses to have amputated. C begins to sympathize, but B sneers at her “softness,” insisting that people should look directly at their mortality.

A’s thoughts turn to memories of the past. She describes her guarded childhood under her mother, who warned A that everyone would want something from her. Her defensiveness continued through her prosperous marriage, in which she enjoyed riding horses but found herself confronting hostile in-laws, an unfaithful husband, and the increasing burden of her alcoholic sister. A recalls nursing her husband through a gruesome infection and bringing her abusive elderly mother to live with her. In her memories, A is constantly embattled: “I think they all hated me, because I was strong, because I had to be.” C is repulsed by A’s casual anti-Semitic and racist remarks, although B explains more tolerantly that these are simply the words that she learned early in life.

In the present, too, A is certain that everyone is out to take advantage of her. She accuses B of stealing from her and insists that she will handle her own financial affairs, despite C’s offer of additional assistance. A becomes confused and weeps that she cannot remember anything anymore. B reassures her that all...

(The entire section is 949 words.)