The appearance of British actress Glenda Jackson on Broadway is a cause for celebration. Having appreciated her talent on screen and stage as well as her political activity in Britain’s House of Commons, I eagerly looked forward to seeing the 81-year-old star at this late stage of her career. In “Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women,” Jackson comes through brilliantly as the major force in this excellent revival.
The performances by Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill are also splendid, but Jackson is especially amazing. At first she is an irascible, partly dotty old lady of 92—she claims to be 91-- complaining about everything, but also providing a steady flow of muddled memories. She dominates the stage as she rattles on and on, including spewing racist comments, but sometimes she breaks down and cries. When she urgently needs to go to the bathroom she demands assistance, but then rebels against the attempt to help her.
It is her stories, delivered loud and clear, with perfect enunciation on every word and timing that leads up to lines that will make an audience roar with laughter. Of course, Albee has created a basically serious play for three actresses named only A, B and C. In the first scene we see B (Metcalf) in the role of exasperatingly taking care of A (Jackson) and C (Pill) there from a law office attempting to get A to overcome her reluctance to signing a stack of papers.
But Albee soon mischievously surprises us as the play veers into all three interacting actresses playing the same woman at different stages of her life. A (Jackson) has died, but she is still with us on stage as the oldest and dispensing more anecdotes and wisdom. Her past includes a bum marriage and a gay son she dislikes. The account of an erect penis and how a piece of jewelry was presented to her is a classic in the realm of receiving gifts.
Metcalf gets her turn to effectively talk about her life as B, who is inevitably working her way toward becoming elderly. Pill plays the youngest and gets her say about her life up to now. On a bed in the background is a replica of A as a corpse, and we see her son, played silently by Joseph Medeiros, come to see his dead mother.
Scenic designer Miriam Buether contributes importantly, first with a large, elegant room, and then, in the second half with the clever use of mirrors. Costume designer Ann Roth has dressed the women in a manner that helps define them.
Director Joe Mantello demonstrates that he understands the play perfectly and that he knows how to make the staging sharp, as well as knowing how to highlight the performances of his special cast. Thus this production, an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission, is an excellent revival, and an example of theater at an exceptionally mature and entertaining level. Jackson is to be welcomed wholeheartedly, Metcalf and Pill also deserve high praise, and although Albee is regrettably gone, the cleverness and originality of his work is still with us. At the John Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street. Phone: 21-239-6200. Reviewed April 1, 2018.