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Theatre / Three Tall Women

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Three Tall Women is a 1994 play by Edward Albee.

The play opens with three women, idenitified in the script only as "A", "B", and "C". A is a querulous, bitter old woman of 92, in very poor health and sinking into the depths of senility. B is 52 years old, and serves as caretaker to A, assisting her into going to the restroom and getting into her bed and such. C is 26, and is a representative from A's law firm with some documents requiring signature. While B is patient and indulgent with A's crankiness and mental fog, C snarks disdainfully.

Act II reveals that the situation is actually completely different. A, B, and C are representations of the same woman at three different times in her life. C is appalled at the prospect of becoming cynical B in late middle age, B is condescending towards C while still puzzling at some of the choices A has made, while A, more coherent and freed from the prison of her flesh after she suffers a stroke in Act I, is more at peace than either of her younger selves.

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Tropes:

  • The Alcoholic: A's sister, never seen onstage. But apparently she used to hide her liquor when visiting A and was sometimes found passed out drunk on the floor of her room.
  • Bi the Way: When recounting in an angry rant her estrangement from her son, B says she caught him "doing it" with her "niece-in-law and your nephew-in-law the same week!"
  • Call-Back: Early in the first act B characterizes death as "...and then you stop." The very last lines of the play have A musing that the best time in life is "when you can stop," that is, when you die.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: As B tells the story, she eventually finds out her son is bisexual (with apparently a stronger lean to the gay side) and she is pissed about it. Her son then reveals that he knows about her affair with the groom; he touches her hair and says "I thought I saw some straw, sorry." The son then walks out of the house and doesn't see his mother again for 20 years, until after B has turned into A.
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  • Future Me Scares Me: Idealistic 26-year-old C is none too pleased to see herself as a bitter, disappointed B or an angry, pathetic old A.
  • Literal Split Personality: A, B, and C are the same person at three different stages of life.
  • Minimalist Cast: Three actresses playing the same character at three stages of life; an actor in a non-speaking part as their son.
  • No Name Given: No names for the three women, which is logical enough since as it turns out they all have the same name. No name is given for the son when he makes his brief appearance either.
  • Non-Linear Character: Act II reveals A, B, and C to be the same person at three different stages of life, talking to each other and with full knowledge of all their past—that is, A knows everything about B and C and B knows everything about C. It may be that they exist in the mind of the "real" A, seeing as how the real A spends the whole second act apparently comatose.
  • Posthumous Character: A's deceased husband, whom we learn a lot about—he was short, he had a good sense of humor, he was a good dancer, he had a small penis, he cheated on A constantly, he suffered for six years before dying of cancer.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: C is not at all happy about this vision of herself as an angry, hateful old woman, saying to A that "I...will...not...become...you."
  • Racist Grandma: A is quite the racist, ranting about Jews and "uppity n——-s". This disgusts C, which becomes pretty ironic in Act II when we find out that A, B, and C are all the same person.
  • Shout-Out: When A is in her senile rambling mode she claims to have met and become friends with Norma Shearer when they were both at the same desert resort.
  • The Voiceless: The son briefly appears in Act II, paying a visit to his mother's bedside. At first he doesn't hear any of the three of them, only sitting next to his mother's bed—paralyzed stroke-ridden "A" is represented in the second act by a mannequin on the bed, while the spirit of A is played by the actress who played A in Act I. Later, when she gives him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, her son can hear her, and he cringes and weeps, but still doesn't talk.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Both the woman and her husband cheated on each other quite a bit. The woman had a literal roll in the hay with a stable hand that her son found out about.
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