Edward Albee

Drama Review – Three Tall Women by Edward Albee

It’s never easy to write a show with four characters with three being the same person. Edward Albee did so. After crafting such memorable shows as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? and Seascape he added the extraordinary Three Tall Women to his catalog. It provided the perfect vehicle for the playwright to exhibit the range of his genius. In addition to the creativity involved in the concept, he crafted a moving meditation on the physical and psychological effects of the aging process.

The play contained three main characters. The playwright chose not to name them; settling instead for the appellations A, B and C. It turned out that each character played the same “tall” woman at different points in her life. A was an old woman in her nineties. In the list of characters, Mr. Albee described B as “looks rather as A would have at 52; plainly dressed.” C “looks rather as B would have at 26.”

The drama commenced with A on the verge of death. The three characters discussed the key events from her life and how they led to this conclusion. The disparity in their views concretized the ways people evaluate the same events at different points in their lives.

The author animated this point very well. I especially enjoyed the exchanges between A and C on pages 104 and 105. Both admitted to each other, “I don’t like you.” I found that very interesting for two characters that were, in essence, the same person.

I liked how the author worked A’s difficulty remembering things into the story. With the way the narrative progressed I wondered if the character lacked this ability intentionally. With some of the unpleasant events that occurred during her life I could understand why. A good example took place when B expressed hatred for her own son.

(Rage) He left! He packed up his attitudes and he left! And I never want to see him again. (To him) Go away!! (Angry, humiliated, tears.) (Page 92)

I found the portion where C discussed their future husband with characters A and B the most interesting section of the play. The playwright made C a young lady of 26 years. A and B informed her that she married at 28. The characters derisively described the spouse as “little and he’s funny looking—a little like a penguin.” (Page 82) B even called him, “The little one; the little one-eyed man?” (Page 79) She added that they went on to spend forty years with one man: “more or less.” (Page 79) Under C’s questioning, she acknowledged a torrid affair during the marriage. I enjoyed how C became disgusted by the description of the husband along with her (future) behavior towards him. Of course, we know that she’s the character who went on to marry and cheat on him shortly afterwards.

I did have some issues with the dialog. I found a lot of it repetitious. I can understand that since all three characters played, in essence, the same person the playwright would choose to show that by having the individuals speak in similar ways. It did get a little tedious to read after a while.

Characters B and C also recited a line made famous by Kurt Vonnegut. They both used the expression, “And so it goes.” It really grabbed my attention. I didn’t understand if the Mr. Albee deliberately referenced Vonnegut or if he had a meaning more endemic to the play in citing him. I would’ve appreciated a clarification.

On an episode of The Simpsons, Marge told Lisa, “You could write a depressing Broadway play. It could be about people coming to terms with things.” That would serve as a good general synopsis of Three Tall Women. While a very cerebral and unhappy story, it’s still an extraordinary exploration of aging and its effects on the human psyche. If you don’t believe me, and you’re young enough, try reading it when you’re 26, 52 and 91.

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Drama Review – The Goat, or Who is Sylvia by Edward Albee

“Something can happen that’s outside the rules, that doesn’t relate to the way The Game is Played.” (Location 1078) That one line serves as a good synopsis of Edward Albee’s Tony Award winning play, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? Imagine, if you will, Martin’s wife Stevie discovering that her husband had been unfaithful. While marital infidelity would be an appropriate topic for a tragedy, the playwright opted to take the drama much further. The object of Martin’s affections wasn’t another woman; or even another man, for that matter. Instead, Martin had fallen for…well, let me allow him to describe his feelings.

(Slow; deliberate) “And what I felt was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. It was so…amazing. There she was.” (Location 1496)

…She was looking at me with those eyes of hers and…I melted, I think. I think that’s what I did: I melted. (Location 1507)

I’d never seen such an expression. It was pure…and trusting and…and innocent; so…so guileless. (Location 1507)

Mr. Albee used this play as a vehicle for exploring social taboos. I only wish he’d chosen a less taboo subject with which to do so. The above lines came from Martin’s confession to Stevie that he’d fallen in love with a (ugh) goat.

In spite of the unorthodox nature of the story, the playwright managed to work in some humor. Here’s another exchange between Martin and Stevie. In this one Martin explained his (ugh) attraction to Sylvia.

Martin: …that she and I were…(Softly; embarrassed) that she and I were going to go to bed together.

Stevie: To stall together! To hay! Not to bed. (Location 1607)

The playwright added another complexion to this situation. He made the couple’s son Billy a homosexual. At one point he told his father:

…you’ve figured out that raising a kid does not include making him into a carbon copy of you, that you’re letting me think you’re putting up with me being gay far better than you probably are. (Location 1879) 

This enhanced the drama in that Martin didn’t feel totally comfortable with his son’s sexuality. This at the same time he pursued a (ugh) physical relationship with a goat.

In the text Martin noted, “So that’s what it comes down to, eh?…what we can get away with?” (Location 2060) Mr. Albee could’ve described the play itself with these words. While a very unorthodox work, even based on what I’d expect from Edward Albee, I enjoyed reading it. As I suspect many readers would, I found the situation bizarre. The playwright still crafted believable dialog. His deft interjections of humor helped make the unsettling topic a little easier to handle. It took a very gifted playwright to accomplish all this.

Obviously, this drama won’t appeal to all readers or theatregoers. I still applaud Mr. Albee for daring audiences to open their minds and to challenge social conventions. That’s what only the very best writers achieve through their work.