‘Three Tall Women’: ‘Exquisite’ Glenda Jackson stars in ‘torrentially exciting’ Edward Albee ‘classic’

Edward Albee won three Pulitzer Prizes over the course of his distinguished career, with two of those award-winning plays (“A Delicate Balance,” “Seascape”) bowing on Broadway during his lifetime. Surprisingly, “Three Tall Women,” the last of his Pulitzer-winning works, had never been seen on the rialto until now, as the play finally debuted with a starry production that opened at the Golden Theatre on March 29. As its title suggests, the drama boasts three formidable actresses—two-time Oscar winner and four-time Tony nominee Glenda Jackson, who returns to the Broadway stage for the first time since 1988; recent Tony winner and Oscar nominee Laurie Metcalf; and Tony nominee Alison Pill—directed by two-time Tony winner Joe Mantello.

“Three Tall Women,” a semi-autobiographical depiction of Albee’s adoptive mother, centers on a nonagenarian suffering from failing health and memory (Jackson), her caretaker (Metcalf) and a representative for her attorney (Pill). The relationships established between these three characters in the first act may not necessarily amount to what they seem, though, as Albee unexpectedly reconfigures the dynamics between them in his second act to reveal just how connected they are to one another.

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Critics responded with rave reviews to the long-overdue arrival of Albee’s “Three Tall Women” on Broadway. Stamped with the Critic’s Pick seal of approval, Jesse Green’s critique (New York Times) praises the production as “torrentially exciting,” featuring “chic, devastating” staging from Mantello that “further burnishes [the play’s] insights and confirms its originality.” Green further raves about the production from top to bottom, from the Glenda Jackson’s “regal” “pleasure” of a performance that puts an “exclamation point” on her acting career, to Metcalf’s “spiky and floppy” turn, Ann Roth’s “superb” costumes, Miriam Buether’s “astonishing set design,” and Paul Gallo’s lighting design and Fitz Patton’s “subtle” sound design, which both “beautifully support” the central themes of the play. All add up to a production of a play that has “aged beautifully, into a burning, raving classic.”

Barbara Schuler (Newsday) writes an equally positive review of this “revealing, poignant story from one of America’s most revered playwrights,” which she says features “wondrous performances from three actresses at the top of their game.” Specifically, Schuler praises the “wry” Jackson, “precise and mildly abrasive” Metcalf, and Pill, who’s “bubbling with hopeful energy of youth,” as well as the “lovely” costumes and “elegant” scenic design.

In a five-out-of-five star review, Adam Feldman (Time Out New York) similarly lauds Mantello’s “scalpel-sharp production” as a “singular experience at the theater,” due in large part to the “exquisite” Jackson’s “towering” performance, the “wonderful” Metcalf, and the “flinty” Pill. Joe Dziemianowicz (NY Daily News) concurs, crediting Mantello’s job directing “with a sure hand and more than a touch of class” and Jackson, who “gives one of the best and most exciting performances of the season,” for this “superb” mounting of Albee’s play.

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Based on the outstanding reviews it received, “Three Tall Women” has guaranteed a nomination for Best Revival. Even though this particular Albee play had never been mounted on Broadway before, it will be considered a revival based on the “classics” rule of the Tony Awards, which deems a play “in the historical or popular repertoire” eligible in Best Revival rather than Best Play. Director Joe Mantello, who has seven Tony nominations to his credit—two as an actor (“The Normal Heart,” 2011; “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches,” 1993) and five as a director, two of which led to victories (“Assassins,” 2004; “Take Me Out,” 2003)—has also secured another Tony nomination. A victory will prove challenging, though, with formidable contenders Marianne Elliott (“Angels in America”) and John Tiffany (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) most likely dueling to take home the trophy.

Though a number of productions have yet to open this season, it seems unlikely that any actress will triumph over Jackson, whose homecoming to Broadway after a thirty-year absence will almost certainly result in her first Tony Award win. After serving over two decades in British Parliament, Jackson made a triumphant return to the stage in London in the title role in a production of “King Lear,” for which she won the coveted Evening Standard Theatre Award.

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The upcoming meeting of the Tony nominating committee will be key in determining the awards prospects of Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill. All three actresses are currently billed above the title, which means they all would, unless deemed otherwise, contend in the Best Actress category. Metcalf and Pill may be campaigned down to Featured, though, in order to increase the likelihood of the production winning a second acting prize. Of these two actresses, Metcalf would certainly have the edge over Pill, though both look strong for nominations. Metcalf, who has four Tony nominations, earned her first victory last year for her leading performance in Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” She could win her second trophy this year if she contends in Featured Actress, especially on the heels of her career-first Oscar nomination for Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird.” Though Pill seems least likely of the trio to take home a prize, she will more than likely receive a nomination for her work depending on what category she competes in.

Each of the production’s design team members stand strong chances of reaping Tony nominations, too. Scenic designer Miriam Buether received major kudos for her elegant work on “Three Tall Women,” which should earn her a first career Tony nomination after her previous work on last season’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2.” She will also be in contention this season for her design work on “The Children,” though of the two productions, “Three Tall Women” certainly seems to have a leg up over the other. Seven-time Tony nominated costume designer Ann Roth, who picked up her first and only trophy for “The Nance” (2013), will likely earn her eighth nom. Likewise for lighting designer Paul Gallo, who could earn his ninth Tony nomination. Though sound designer Fitz Patton has not earned a Tony nomination yet despite his whopping 21 Broadway credits, he could very well land his first this year now that the Sound Design categories for plays and musicals will be reinstated at the upcoming ceremony in June after being eliminated after the 2014 awards.

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