With its unflinching look at mortality and its masterly control of theatricality, Three Tall Women would be a triumph for any playwright. For Edward Albee, the play marked a return to the critical and popular success that had eluded him for fifteen years. Albee established his name as a daring provocateur in 1960 with the New York premiere of The Zoo Story (pr., pb. 1959). He solidified his reputation with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (pr., pb. 1962), winner of the Tony Award, and A Delicate Balance (pr., pb. 1966), winner of the Pulitzer Prize in drama. With scathing wit and passionate rage, Albee’s early plays decried the emptiness and terror inside the American Dream (he produced and published a play called The American Dream in 1961).
Albee continued to write steadily through the 1970’s and 1980’s, winning a second Pulitzer Prize for Seascape (pr., pb. 1975), but critics and audiences became increasingly indifferent, even hostile, to Albee’s dramaturgy. Three Tall Women premiered in Vienna’s English Theatre in 1991, and few American theaters were interested in producing the play. Lawrence Sacharow directed a successful production at River Arts Repertory in Woodstock, New York, in 1992, but it took over a year to find a New York City venue for the piece. Opening Off-Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre in 1994, the production transferred to the Promenade Theatre, where it ran for over a year. Three Tall Women won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award in 1994. Albee’s stature in the American theater was reaffirmed with the Obie Award for Sustained Achievement in 1994 and the National Medal of Arts in 1996.
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