Review of Three Tall Women, starring Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf & Alison Pill, on Broadway

  • Our critic's rating:
    April 10, 2018
    Review by:

    My advice to you is get your tickets to this Three Tall Women and get them now. June will be here before you know it - spring not so much - and the show will close. People will say to you over martinis, "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. 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 use 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 interfere with the many ministrations of which she is in need. The third woman is C (Allison Pill) who is there representing the law firm that handles A's affairs. The main problem with the first act is that there is no reason for C to stick around once she has gotten ahold of a pile of unattended bills. 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 commanding attention 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 story. In a piece 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 because 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. Her reluctance to become like them is fuel for the fire. Once again Jackson and Metcalfe are an extraordinary team as they reminisce and question one another 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 about being versions of themselves. Each of the three women refers to herself as "we" or "us" when telling a tale. The separate edges blur until they are at last one whole person composed of many. They move and think and act as one and 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. 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.

    (Photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

    What the popular press says...

    "Though Three Tall Women won him [Edward Albee] his third Pulitzer Prize, in 1994, and marked his return from the critical wilderness after two decades of disrepute, this is the play’s Broadway premiere. Joe Mantello’s chic, devastating staging at the Golden Theater was worth the wait."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "Everyone going to Three Tall Women at the Golden Theatre hopes for a great revival. Good news: There are actually two. One is the superb new production of Edward Albee’s 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama that's been directed with a sure hand and more than a touch of class by Joe Mantello. The other is the breathtaking Broadway reboot of Glenda Jackson, a two-time Oscar winner and four-time Tony nominee who’s been away from the New York stage since starring in Macbeth in 1988."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "Glenda Jackson gives a towering performance in the exquisite new revival of Edward Albee’s brutally truthful 1991 drama, Three Tall Women. That the tower is crumbling makes it all the more fascinating."
    Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

    "Stage acting doesn't get any better than Glenda Jackson's performance as the autocratic nonagenarian in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women, modeled on the adoptive mother with whom the playwright had a famously thorny relationship. On Broadway for the first time in 30 years (23 of which she spent as a member of British Parliament), the two-time Oscar winner shows no trace of rustiness in a characterization of such diamond-hard ferocity you dare not take your eyes off her."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "Watching Glenda Jackson in theatrical flight is like looking straight into the sun. Her expressive face registers her thoughts while guarding her feelings. But it’s the voice that really thrills. Deeply pitched and clarion clear, it’s the commanding voice of stern authority. Don’t mess with this household god or she’ll turn you to stone."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily NewsTime Out - Hollywood Reporter - Variety