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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Theater: Edward Albee's Play - Three Tall Women: Three Perspectives From Three Stages of a Life

In Edward Albee's autobiographical two-act play, Three Tall Women, the protagonist, who is referred to as A, is represented at three different stages of her life.

Three Perspectives From Three Stages of a Life

In the first act, the three women are shown as three separate women:
  • A: the protagonist, is a 92 year old woman suffering with dementia and physical challenges 
  • B: is A's 52 year old caretaker
  • C: is a 26 year old lawyer sent from A's law firm who has come to A's home to help straighten out A's financial matters which are in disarray because A forgets to pay her bills
Act One
The play doesn't really have a plot.  Instead, it has several themes.

The main themes of the play are aging, mortality, gender, and family relationships. These themes are presented in the first act with A reminiscing about when she was young, her relationships with her sister and mother, her relationship with her husband, and the days when she won awards for horseback riding (see my article: Making Peace With the Aging Process).

Even though A struggles with her memory, she talks almost non-stop about her youth and the early days of her marriage.  Even though she wasn't in love with her wealthy husband, she remembers her life as having some happy times, despite her husband's philandering with other women.

A also talks about her son and the conflicts they had about his homosexuality, which led to their 20 year estrangement.  In Act One, even though she is still opposed to her son being gay, she also misses him and wonders why he doesn't come to visit her more often and, when he comes, why he doesn't stay longer (see my article: Dealing With Homophobia in Your Family).

Her caretaker, B, is compassionate, although she is also weary of taking care of A.  She tries to soothe A when she is upset about her faltering memory and her problematic relationship with her son.  But C, the young attorney, is impatient with A.  She gets annoyed with A's vanity when A tries to say she is 91 and not 92.

A reminisces about her mother and how they had a good relationship with when A was a young girl.  But by the time her mother is older and she moves in with A, their relationship changed.  Her mother resents that she is old and frail, and A believes her mother hated and resented her at that point.

By the end of Act One, as A reminisces about those later difficult days with her mother, she has a stroke, and B and C are contact the doctor and A's son.

Act Two
In Act Two, A, B, and C are now aspects of the protagonist--A, at different stages of her life: her youth, her middle-age years, and her final years.

The aspect of A who had the stroke is on her death bed with an oxygen mask, and her son sits silently on the bed next to her stroking her hand.

The aspect of A who is up and walking around is no longer frail or demented.  She has her full faculties and she's talking to the younger aspects of herself, B and C.

C, who is 26, is still optimistic about her life.  She is hoping that the best times in her life are yet to come.  But when she hears B, who is 52, and A, who is 92, tell her about what's to come in her future, she's ambivalent about hearing it.  Part of her wants to know, but another part of her is horrified.  She can't believe that she will change so much between her youth and old age.  She also can't believe that she will alienate her only son later on in her life.  She vows that she will never become like B and A.

B is somewhat jaded about life, but she believes she is living the best part of her life now in her middle age with much of the hardships behind her.  But when she looks at the aspect of A on her death bed and the aspect of A in front of her, who is telling her what's to come in her life, she is also ambivalent about hearing about it.

A watches the aspect of herself lying in a coma on her death bed as her son sits with her--the same son who left and stayed away for 20 years because she couldn't tolerate his homosexuality.  Although he would really be middle aged when she is dying, she sees him as he appeared on the day he left the household when he was a young man.

At the end of the play, A faces the audience and tells them that the best time in her life is now--at the end of her life.  She says that as her life is ending, it's the happiest moment of her life.

Some Thoughts About the Play
As I mentioned, it's generally acknowledged that Three Tall Women is an autobiographical play.  Edward Albee was adopted by a wealthy couple who moved him from one private school to another.  From what I've read, it appears that he wasn't close to his adopted parents, who were so different from him.

Just as the son in Three Tall Women was estranged from his mother for 20 years because she couldn't accept his homosexuality, Edward Albee was also estranged from his mother because of their conflicts about his being gay.

It appears that, even though they reconnected, they never talked about their conflicts, and he wasn't close to his mother.  In the play, A states that he came back to see her, but he never returned to see his father or to attend his father's funeral.

The protagonist's self states from different stages in her life communicate with each other and each provides a unique perspective of A from different points of view in her life.  She is reviewing her life from her youth, middle age and at the end of her life.

Mortality, one of the main themes of this thought-provoking play, is viewed from these different perspectives.

Being in the audience, you can't help think about your life at whatever stage you're in and how you're living your life.  You also become aware that life is short so, while there's still time to change, you can ask yourself how you want to live your life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

My specialties include: 
  • Trauma
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Relationship issues
  • Career issues
  • Bereavement and loss
  • LGBT issues
  • Substance abuse aftercare
  • Major life changes
To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

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