Three Tall Women

Edward Albee

The play is nominally sequential, two acts, one set (an ornate bedroom). The same woman, A at ninety-one (or ninety-two), B at fifty-two, C at twenty-six, and her twenty-three-year-old son (who has no lines).

In Act One, A is the earliest, C the latest. In Act Two, this is reversed. Apollinaire explains this in the trenches (“Le palais du tonnerre”).

The palace is lit at times by a candle with a flame as small as a mouse

O palace minuscule as if you looked at it from the big end of a telescope

Little palace where everything’s new nothing nothing old

And where everything’s precious where everyone’s dressed like a king

A saddle’s in the corner riding a box

A daily paper lies along the ground

And nevertheless everything looks old in this new dwelling

So much that you understand the love of the ancient

The taste for antiques

Comes to men from the time of caves

Everything there was so precious and so new

Everything there is so precious and so new

That a thing more ancient or which had already served appeared there


More precious

Than what you have under your hand

In this subterranean palace hollowed out in the chalk so white and so new

And two new steps

They’re not two weeks old

Are so old and so worn in this palace that seems antique without imitating the antique

That you see that what is simplest and newest is that which is

Nearest to what is called antique beauty

And what is overburdened with ornaments

Needs to age to have the beauty which is called antique

And which is nobility strength ardor soul wear-and-tear

Of what is new and which serves

Above all if that is simple simple

As simple as the little palace of thunder

The slipshod writing is a studied effect, Albee’s precision is mocked as a childish pedanticism. Imagery is achieved more carefully than the sharpest grammatical analysis. It floats in two hours of conversation, blissful and borborygmic, to constitute the play. This is a Shakespearean device, also the thematic introduction of material in another’s plays, Beckett’s Human Wishes and Osborne’s East of Suez for Act One, Borges’ “The other” (a dialogue in short-story form) and Wilder’s Our Town (but also, if you prefer, Albee’s Everything in the Garden) for Act Two.

The hard and up-to-date girl is a novice at life, the aged wreck has seen it all. In-between is the mediator.

Thus much for “the barbed wire of initiation”. She has affairs, marries, has an ungrateful son, sees her husband’s death, grows old and dies. A Cubist portrait, or rather one of Schwitters’ compositions (Konstruktion für edle Frauen).