It’s nap time for her then-14 month-old daughter, and Alison Pill is acting accordingly. Newly resettled into New York, where she’s staying in a friend’s Greenwich Village apartment while in production, the Canadian actress tiptoes quietly out of the apartment and heads to Washington Square Park, where she poses for a brief portrait before it’s time to return to the nanny.
It’s the day before she begins rehearsals for “Three Tall Women,” the revival of Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning production, which tells the story of female complexity and, as Pill says, “difficulty,” as seen through the characters A, B and C. She’s yet to properly meet her costars — Glenda Jackson, back on Broadway after 30 years (20-plus of which were spent as a Member of Parliament in Britain), and Laurie Metcalf, fresh from her Oscar-nominated turn in “Lady Bird,” who Pill knows only socially. (Metcalf’s daughter is a friend). The combination of the two is, as she’ll later say, a scenario impossible to imagine improving upon. And so the family was uprooted from L.A. and here she is, ready for action.
Several weeks later, just days before the production officially opens on Broadway today, Pill finally feels fully settled into the role.
“It’s a really hard play — it’s harder than I think any of us knew,” she says from her dressing room, ahead of her rehearsal call time. ” “That first act is so tricky. There’s something absurdist about the fact that we’re all shut up in this room together. Because on the page you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s three ladies talking to each other in a room,’ and then you realize that these kind of arias that this old woman has, we have to sit there and try to figure out what to do with ourselves to make it look like we’re living in the world, but also be theatrical and also find those echoes that will come through the second act. Which are still coming to me. And the depth of the play is much greater than I think I even knew.”
It’s her second project since having her daughter with husband Joshua Leonard — she began filming “American Horror Story” when her daughter was six months old — and her first time back onstage in four years.
“I didn’t get any kind of proper theater training; I’ve read a bunch of plays, but I don’t have the breadth of knowledge that a lot of theater students have in terms of plays,” she says of how “Three Tall Women” came into her life. “Weirdly I had read this one, which isn’t that common of a play to have read. I’d gotten it randomly at The Strand one day.”
Since becoming a mother, her process for selecting roles has, naturally, become narrower. Aside from the women she’d be acting alongside, “Three Tall Women” drew her in for its head-on exploration of a woman Pill saw herself in.
“I can be a difficult person. And I in the past have much preferred to be right than happy. And so this exploration of an old woman who didn’t try to unlearn that trait was really interesting,” she says. “It’s a play about difficult women who despise being vulnerable. And are nothing without this vision of themselves as tall and strong, and all that that means. And are incredibly narcissistic and failed humans. But I think exploring that kind of woman is really interesting, and the way that women martyr themselves and the way that is different from a man who does it is really interesting. And heartbreaking.”
She has Albee’s mother to thank for the existence of the role. “I think he and his mom were very similar. I think they both were, from what I hear, quite impossible people. He struggled with people being close to him throughout his life as well – that these demons are passed on,” she says. “That’s why I wanted to do it – because of somebody who understands the same difficulty of writing a play about one of the most important people in his life, and her difficulty with humans, and vulnerability.”
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