Three Tall Women | Critical Review by William Hutchings

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Three Tall Women.
This section contains 540 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by William Hutchings

SOURCE: A review of Three Tall Women, in World Literature Today, Vol. 69, No. 4, Autumn, 1995, pp. 799-80.

In the following review, Hutchings examines Three Tall Women, comparing it to works by Samuel Beckett.

Identified only as B and C, two of the three tall women of Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama are engaged in a deathwatch for the third, the ninety-two-year-old, bedridden, bitingly sarcastic A. B, according to Albee's production notes, "looks rather as A would have at 52," while C "looks rather as B would have at 26." In the first act the three are distinctly separate characters, generationally different but sometimes overcoming their mutual incomprehensions. The second act, however, perpetrates an intriguing, Pirandellolike change: the three generations represented on stage are no longer three separate people in the room at one time but one person at three separate ages in her life. As in the first act, though from an entirely different and newly subjective perspective, the women's interactions and mutual interrogations mingle past and present, youth and age, memory and desire.

Albee's three-page introduction provides particularly candid insights into his personal animus—in both senses of that word. The character of A is based on

… my adoptive mother, whom I knew from infancy … until her death over sixty years later…. We had managed to make each other very unhappy over the years…. It is true I did not like her much, could not abide her prejudices, her loathings, her paranoias, but I did admire her pride, her sense of self. As she moved toward ninety, began failing both physically and mentally, I was touched by the survivor, the figure clinging to the wreckage only partly of her own making, refusing to go under.

Nevertheless, he insists, the play is neither a "revenge play" nor a search for "self-catharsis."

With its relatively static dramatic form, its thanatopsic subject matter, and some of its specific imagery, Three Tall Women has strong affinities with a number of Samuel Beckett's shorter plays. The second act's poignant juxtaposition of past and present selves resembles Krapp's Last Tape, though Albee depicts them as physical presences on stage rather than as a technologically evoked absence—and each can interrogate the others. The voices of Beckett's That Time are similarly identified as A, B, and C and are all the single character's own, coming from three distinct points in the darkness; the presence of the women for the deathwatch also suggests, in varying ways, Footfalls, Rockaby, and Come and Go. After much weeping (which Beckett's characters never do) and after talk of "going on" (that most familiar Beckettian refrain), A, dying, attains "the point where you can think about yourself in the third person without being crazy"—as in Beckett's Not 1. In the final speech of Albee's play, A concludes that life's "happiest moment" is "coming to the end of it [her own existence]"—attaining (perhaps) the oblivion for which, futilely, many of Beckett's characters yearn.

With its realistic set of "a 'wealthy' bedroom" rather than the ominous darkness of the Beckettian void, with characters of a specific and privileged social class, Three Tall Women domesticates the dramatic territories that Beckett so relentlessly, evocatively, and innovatively explored. They have now been made accessible and—in every sense—plain.

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This section contains 540 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by William Hutchings
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