How do you assess the value, the meaning, the success of your own life? What truly matters in life? How wide is the gap between who you are and who you want to be? And . . . would your answers to these questions change in any significant way at different stages of your life?
These questions and more are examined in Edward Albee’s celebrated play Three Tall Women – winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Drama Critics Circle Award, and many others.
This play revitalized and reinvigorated Albee’s career when it premiered in 1994, after he’d spent more than a decade in near-obscurity.
It’s easy to understand why it was such a hit, as Three Tall Women finds Albee reflecting on some of life’s most enduring and puzzling questions by focusing intensely on the life of one very specific woman – a character based on his own mother, with whom he had a chilly and tortured relationship.
This play was Albee’s attempt to truly understand his mother and through her, what it means to be human.
Although Three Tall Women is a simple play, it’s difficult to describe.
In act one we meet A (played by Mary Grace Weir), a 92-year-old woman struggling to cope with dementia, physical disability, pain, and the mounting loss of her agency, independence, and dignity. She is cared for by B (played by Fay Lynn), her 52-year-old live-in nurse.
B has been looking after A for a long time and the two have an understanding, even if they often disagree. New to the situation is C (played by Rebecca Mickle), a 26- year-old novice lawyer who works for the firm that handles A’s estate.
A is quite wealthy, you see, but often forgets to pay her bills – or simply refuses to pay them when she doesn’t remember what they’re for.
During the first act we learn a lot about these three women, who are not only different in personality, but also different in the kinds of lives they’ve led, what they’ve accomplished, what they’ve suffered, and what they’re now faced with at their particular stages of the human life cycle.
They quarrel, tease, joke, and gradually seem to develop a bond. But their blossoming intimacy is cut short when A suffers a stroke.
Everything changes in the second act, which takes place inside A’s head as she is comatose in bed, perhaps dying. A, B, and C are now the same woman at different stages of her life. A is still A at 92-years- old, but no longer burdened by physical and psychological ailments.
She is the A who must have been lurking behind dementia’s sinister machinations – largely at peace with who she is, able to see back through all the stages of her life to the beginning, even if she can’t be expected to remember every detail. B is this woman when she was 52, middle-aged, with most of her life behind her but forty years still to come.
She’s trapped in many ways in one of the most difficult periods of her life, at times consumed with bitterness. And C is now this woman at 26-years-old, brimming with optimism, bursting with dreams of the life she plans to have, a woman who’s just beginning to come into her own as an independent spirit.
What sorts of questions would you ask if you could talk to yourself at different stages of your own life?
These women get to ask those questions. What would you want to know? These women can find out.
Do you think you’d be surprised by who you become in the future, or by who you were in the past?
These women are. We forget, don’t we, exactly what we were like twenty years ago, until something reminds us. And although we might have clear ideas about who we think we’ll become, we can’t really know.
After all, the person we’ll become has experienced things, learned things, suffered things, and rejoiced in things that we haven’t. Not yet.
The events of our lives, and how we perceive and interpret and react to them, change us.
In the second act we’re also introduced to The Boy (played by Alex Monk), who is A’s estranged son. This character is not only based on Albee himself, it is Albee, written into the script to interact with the women who represent his mother.
The Boy is a ghost in his mother’s life, even in the inner life inside her head. Through the various reactions to him from A, B, and C we come to understand the undercurrent of tragedy, of sorrow and regret, that haunted both Albee and his mother.
Despite that tragedy, Three Tall Women is mostly a joyful play. Many of A’s memories are happy ones, and the sense of play between the women of both acts reminds us that life is a complex emotional tapestry.
Were we to simplify or reduce it to one emotion, one lesson, one theme, the beauty of this tapestry would be lost.
The complicated beauty of each human life can only be comprehended by stepping back to view it as a whole. It’s art that each of us adds to in every moment of our lives.
Post Productions will present Three Tall Women by Edward Albee at The Shadowbox Theatre Feb 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25 and 26 2022. Performances begin at 8:00 PM (doors open 7:30).
Tickets can be purchased online-only for $25 at postproductionswindsor.ca. All patrons must be masked and will be required to present proof of full vaccination against Covid-19 (at least two doses). Starring Mary Grace Weir, Rebecca Mickle, and Fay Lynn. Produced and directed by Michael K. Potter and Fay Lynn.
Presented in association with Waawiiyaatanong Feminist Theatre.