Edward Albee is one of the best playwrights the United States has ever produced. As with many great writers, he came from a painful background.
Born in 1928, Albee, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and two-time Tony Award winner, was put up for adoption two weeks after his birth. He ended up adopted by a cold, wealthy couple in New York. Albee disliked them both, and the feeling appeared to have been mutual. They discouraged his writing and disapproved of his sexuality, leading him to leave home as a teen. As writers do, he made good use of these difficulties by channeling them into works of art.
One of these works is the play, by turns agonizing and cathartic, Three Tall Women, which premiered in 1991 and was one of his Pulitzer-winners; it tells the story of one woman’s life, in three distinct phases (youth, middle age and old age) played by three different actresses whose characters are named, simply, “A, B and C.” Albee waited until his adoptive mother died to bring this play to the public, and it is widely understood to have been a very thinly-veiled description of his adoptive mother, Frances Cotter. Albee himself referred to the play as an exorcism.
Three Tall Women is having a run in Albuquerque at Aux Dog Theatre, through March 10. We caught up with the three actresses realizing the roles: Lacey Bingham who plays A, the oldest version of the lead character; Tilcara Webb, who plays C, the youngest version of the character; and Laura Norman, who plays B, the middle-aged version.
Weekly Alibi: How and why did you become an actress?
Lacey Bingham: I guess the real answer is that I became an actress because I wanted to feel humanity in lots of different roles, in many different ways. It has worked. I am stupid about feelings in my own life; I don’t understand them and I’m not good at them. But when I play a character I feel them all appropriately, and express them correctly. Have you ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test? Well, I’m an INTJ, which means where other people feel things authentically, I more like think them through. I have feelings, but I’m cut off from them. When I’m acting, my emotional instincts come in. I give myself permission to be vulnerable on the stage. In real life I don’t do that. At all.
Tilcara Webb: Oh wow. Okay. Well, I suppose originally it all started at the James A. Little Theater in Santa Fe. When I was a kid, there was this children’s theater group there, and my parents took me to a production of Snow White and I saw the magic happen onstage. I was, like, I have to be a part of that. Basically ever since then I’ve been in small productions, doing theater here and there. This is the first play I’ve done in three years.
Laura Norman: I think it has evolved over time. When I was younger it was a way to have a creative outlet and a place where I fit in. As I’ve gotten older I have fallen in love with good writing and good stories. Connecting with other people, either through the character I’m playing, the other people involved with the show, and in the case of the theatre, connecting with the audience, has been a really special thing.
What appealed to you about this play and why?
LB: Oh my. This is the role of a lifetime. Yeah. A is the role of a lifetime. She’s based on the playwright’s adopted mother. He hated her. Hated. She hated him too. She’s got these stories that are crazy. She’s a crazy lady with these crazy stories, and they’re funny but they are also morbid. She’s kind of a wretched character. This was his revenge play, definitely. But then he found out everybody fell in love with the character, and he didn’t understand why. She’s a racist, not in her own mind, you know? But she uses racist words. I think he thought everyone was going to see her the way she was written, and not how fragile and vulnerable she was. She tells these stories about being wealthy. “Dripping in diamonds and pearls, darling.” (Laughs.) I love the character. I love her. She’s my favorite character I’ve ever played. She’s 92 years old, and a tough old biddy. But towards the end, in act two, as she’s dying, she’s in that no-man’s land between life and death, in that twilight, and she has sort of an awakening. It is masterful how that was written. Yes, he hated her, but he also had empathy for her. It’s absolutely beautiful.
TW: Something that’s really unique about this play is that there are multiple facets to the characters. It’s very clear, at least for B and C, that act one and act two are completely different characters in the same person. So their approaches to life and their interactions onstage and the things they want are completely different from one another. As an actor it’s really intriguing and fun to have the opportunity to play two different characters in one night.
LN: There are certain shows you just get drawn to, and this one was one of those for me, for some reason. The writing is incredible. It has been a real challenge to figure out the character and the story. Our director has been incredibly helpful with finding all of this. I love the idea of being able to see yourself at different stages of your life, to see all the ways that you grow and change. Change is such a theme in this play; it’s one of those things that we know is inevitable but that we are often so afraid of. The ultimate change/transition as we die—I think the way it’s written and directed in this play is really beautiful.