By Tulis McCall
My advice to you is get your tickets to Three Tall Women, and get them now. June will be here before you know it – spring not so much – and this production will close. Over martinis, for years to come, people will say to you, “Did you see it?” and you don’t want to be caught with your knickers down.
As for me, I am still in stun mode two days after seeing this play. It reflects us. Believe me when I tell you it does. It shows us that we are more than who we think we are, and pulls us into its orbit before we have a chance to decline the offer.
In Act One, the three tall women in question are all in one sumptuous over-the-top bedroom of silk sheets and furniture upholstered in different patterned fabrics, the way the very rich like to do. The queen of the manse is A. That is all the name she gets. The queen is, of course Glenda Jackson (Her beautiful self has been allowed into the country showing no signs of a facelift…what a concept….), and she rules her kingdom with mood swings fit for a trapeze act. One minute she is spitting tacks and looking for a long knife she could us on her caretaker B (Laurie Metcalf). She would have to use her good arm only as the bad one is basically rotting in its sling which interferes with the many ministrations of which she is in need. The third woman is C (Allison Pill) who is representing the law firm that handles A’s affairs. Too many pieces of paper have landed into the “I will get to it” drawer, and it is time to retrieve them for sorting out. The main problem with the first act is that there is no reason for C to stick around once she has gotten ahold of said papers. She could just trot off. Granted, no sane person would choose the streets of Manhattan over tea with Jackson, no matter how looney she is acting. Still, C does have a job, and hanging around is not one of them. This is a huge stumbling block that is never resolved.
Jackson, however, has no problem pulling the focus away from this problem both as her character and as an actor. Metcalf is right behind her with brilliant timing and an inner life that is crackling. Frankly, the first act is more of a pas de deux than a threesome. But A and B need someone on whom they can gang up as A drifts in and out of the past. One minute she is locked into her marriage to the man who made her laugh but had little else to recommend him. The next minute she is shrieking resistance at the darkness that is enveloping her, stealing memories and bits of logic. C is the natural, if lackluster, target for A and B.
Act Two – well this is a whole different kettle of fish. In a move of true theatrical magic gifted us by the set designer Miriam Beuther, we are transported into a different dimension. Reality has been cracked wide open, and we feel like we are in a kaleidoscope of gigantic proportion. A, B, and C are now three ages of the same woman. Namely the crotchety old broad we met in Act One. A is the eldest waiting for the end. B is in midlife where she has a past and a future that are almost equidistant. C is a 26 year old, not a virgin but a good girl, who is eager for her future but not eager to become either of her cohorts. The fact that she believes she may have a choice in this matter is fuel for the fire. Once again Jackson and Metcalfe are an extraordinary team as they reminisce, question one another, and load up on buckets of sarcasm while their younger self looks on, amazed and terrified.
Just you wait, they tell her. Just you wait.
Death, vengeance, betrayal, adventure and victories are dragged up like chunks of burnt sauce on the bottom of an old pot. Let’s look at this. Remember that. The more these two talk, the more comfort they take in being versions of themselves, while C pleads with them to tell her of good times ahead. Not so much of those, they admit. Still, they survived, and that is something.
Throughout, each of the three women refers to herself as “we” or “us” when telling a tale. The separate edges blur until the three are at last one whole person composed of many. They move and think and act as one as well as three.
And is this not how we all feel? No matter where you are on the age spectrum? Whether you are a young adult, or a Woman Of A Certain Age, or an Elder. Once you are old enough to have some experience under your belt, doesn’t life offer itself to you fragmented? Are we not our old selves, our present selves and our future selves in every moment of our lives? I say yes we are, and this is why Three Tall Women is a majestic piece of theatre.
At the center of this orbit is Glenda Jackson. Her aim is true. Her work is immaculate. Her mission is clear. She is there to give us the gift of reminding us that we are alive. Right now. This breath. This slice of time. She does it by being fully alive herself. And she makes it look easy.
This is theatre that makes a person believe in magic.
THREE TALL WOMEN – by Edward Albee; Directed by Joe Mantello
WITH Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill
Scenic Design by Miriam Beuther, Costume Design by Ann Roth, Lighting Design by Paul Gallo, Sound Design by Fitz Patton.
Through June 24th at the John Golden Theatre. TICKETS