Broadway Review: ‘Three Tall Women’ With Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf


Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf, Alison Pill

1 hour 45 minutes

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.

Her character, designated “A,” in Edward Albee’s surreal manner, is the dominant figure in the maternal triad that the scribe drew to represent three stages in the life of his own adoptive mother, with whom he had a complicated, not to say rocky relationship. “B” (Laurie Metcalf, a great actress oddly miscast) characterizes the same woman in middle age, conscious of her mental and physical strength, but uncertain of her actual power. “C” (Alison Pill, looking panicked) represents the same mother figure, but in her youth, observing her older selves in horror.

From time to time, more realistic roles are suggested for these emblematic figures. “A” is a narcissistic old woman on her deathbed. “B” is her caretaker and “C” does her errands. But reality doesn’t really become them. And aside from the obvious fact that every breath they draw is taking them closer to death, nothing dramatic actually happens on stage.

The imposing bedroom set (designed by Miriam Buether and tastefully lighted by Paul Gallo) is the period-perfect backdrop for a woman of “A’s” age and sensibilities. The bed itself is overpowering, covered in fine fabrics and crowned by a vaguely regal headboard. The rest of the furnishings — antique chairs, upholstery, blanket chest, wall covering, framed pictures (but no family photos) — contribute to the aura of claustrophobic safety. But this visual suggestion of safety is an illusion because this is a punishing play. The sentiments are cold and steely, and even though the language is beautiful, it is fierce.

Structurally, the play is very nearly a monologue, punctuated by frequent contributions from “B” and “C” that serve to change the subject, correct the narrative, or shift the mood. They can also be unkind. “B” keeps reminding “A” that she’s losing her faculties and “C” is insistent that “A” is 92, and not 91, as the old woman would have it. While these insertions are written in a rather flat idiom, the wandering memories of “A” have distinct beauty — selfish and hurtful, but beautiful all the same.

Whenever “A” is focused and living in the present, she seems querulous, self-centered, and unlikable — and Jackson makes no apologies for her. “Everybody out there is ready to rob me blind” is typical of her many complaints. And when “C,” certain that “A” is too gaga to notice, dares to criticize the old woman, she snaps back. “I pay you, don’t I? You can’t talk to me that way.” The sheer fury in Jackson’s delivery makes you want to hide under the bed. If that was Albee’s mother as he knew her at the end of her life, it’s no wonder he wrote this savage play in her memory.

What makes “A” so interesting — fascinating, really — are all the younger selves she keeps alive in her failing mind. And what makes Jackson so absolutely riveting in these flashbacks is her total investment in each fragment of “A’s” many persona.

After remembering how her mother warned her about men and their selfish demands, her flashback to the night she met her husband is gorgeous. “I met him at a party and he said he’d seen me before. He said, ‘Let’s go riding in the park’ and I said, ‘Alright.’ Scared to death. I lied; I said I rode. He didn’t care; he wanted me; I could tell.”

If there is one thing Jackson is not, it is sentimental. There are lines — like “You count on them and they die or go away” — that some thesps would milk like a cow. But not Jackson, with her commitment to truth in performance. (see: “King Lear”) Not even a real heartbreaker like “I remember being tall” can break her down. She’s tough, and in her toughness, she shows us exactly what makes “A” a memorable character: her unbending backbone. The irony is, Albee supposedly wrote this play to even things up with his difficult mother. With Jackson in the role, his mother punches back.

Broadway Review: 'Three Tall Women' With Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf

Golden Theater; 787 seats; $159 top

Production: A presentation by Scott Rudin, Barry Diller, Eli Bush, the John Gore Organization, James L. Nederlander, Candy Spelling, Len Blavatnik, Rosalind Productions, Inc., Eric Falkenstein, Peter May, Jay Alix & Una Jackman, Patty Baker, Diana DiMenna, Wendy Federman & Heni Koenigsberg, Benjamin Lowy & Adrian Salpeter, and executive producers Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, and John Johnson, of a play in one act by Edward Albee. Opened March 29, 2018. Reviewed March 23.


Directed by Joe Mantello. Set, Miriam Buether; costumes, Ann Roth; lighting, Paul Gallo; sound, Fitz Patton; hair & makeup, Campbell Young Associates; production stage manager, William Joseph Barnes.


Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf, Alison Pill

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]


    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]


    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content