Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Edward Albeem

Edward Albeem 1987
From Universitat Humburg

Edward Albeem 1992
Photo by David Seidner
From Bomb Magazine

As a baby Edward Albee was adopted by wealthy New Yorkers whose rigid Republicanism later kindled leftist leanings and led him to walk out at 21. One of America's finest dramatists, he has written 28 plays but feels saddled with the 1962 triumph of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? His latest work maintains his Absurdist fascination with language and emotional conflict…..
He has written 28 plays over 44 years, but as he wrote in the programme notes for the Almeida's 1996 revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, that play, premiered on Broadway in 1962, has "hung about my neck like a shining medal of some sort - really nice but a trifle onerous". Among American playwrights he ranks alongside Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, and like them he has suffered critical rejection…..
Edward was born to a woman called Louise Harvey, whom he has not tried to trace, on March 12 1928; all that is known about her is that she was abandoned by the baby's father. Edward was adopted by Reed Albee and his third wife Frances when he was 18 days old. He grew up in great affluence in Larchmont, New York, surrounded by servants and protected from any unsuitable contacts. Reed, a short man with one glass eye, was heir to a vaudeville empire and retired in his early 40s. He was a serial adulterer, an abdicator from family life; Frances ("Frankie") was a tall glamorous former shop mannequin, and, according to Albee's biographer Mel Gussow, "imperious, demanding, and unloving"…..
Called "the greatest living playwright" by The New Yorker, Edward Albee is lauded as "one of the eternal innovators" in American drama, challenging his audiences with stories that express the bone-simple, shattering truth of the human experience.
Albee burst onto the American theatrical scene in the late 1950s with a variety of plays that detailed the agonies and disillusionment of that decade and the transition from the placid Eisenhower years to the turbulent 1960s. He was unanimously hailed as the successor to Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O'Neill.
Albee's plays, with their intensity, their grappling with modern themes, and their experiments in form, startled critics and audiences alike while changing the landscape of American drama. His short work The Zoo Story, together with 1962's full-length Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and 1966's A Delicate Balance, created the mold for American drama for the second half of the 20th century.
Literature, art, theatre and music filled his eyes and ears until one day he found himself writing his first play, "The Zoo Story" (1958), in three weeks when he was 30. Although it was rejected by producers in New York, it was successful in convincing Albee that playwriting was what he wanted to do. And there’s no denying that he has done it well. His works are biting satires of modern life and the family unit, which lay bare the tribulations of social disparity and the negative effects of an ever-changing commercial world. All in all, an heroic contribution to theatre.
During his early years Albee was greatly inspired by Samuel Beckett, whom he continues to revere. Albee's affinity for Beckett goes beyond their similarly dark preoccupations with the human condition. Beckett also took a hardline view of adaptations of his works. He was notoriously meticulous in his stage directions, supervising rehearsals of his plays whenever he could. He would often sideline directors to tell actors their intonations were wrong, or they were not moving the way they should, or the lights were too bright, or not bright enough. He even tried to close down one or two productions when he felt his work was being misrepresented.
Following Beckett’s death, the playwright’s licenses and rights to perform his plays fell into the hands of his nephew, Edward Beckett, who has maintained an iron-grip on his uncle’s work. He is known for refusing to grant licenses for productions that do not strictly adhere to Beckett’s stage directions…..
(Laura Parker at The Economist Newspaper Limited)
Critics differ all the time, but no other major playwright with a career of almost half a century behind him so consistently evokes such viscerally opposed reactions. To understand why this should be so, it is necessary to acknowledge Albee as a playwright whose power depends almost entirely on the scale of the forces to which he is opposed. When his need to be a nonconformist pits him against large and imposing institutions, he is a searing writer. When he can find nothing important to oppose, he seeks the necessary distance from convention in formal trickery and a confusion of artistic freedom with self-indulgence.
(NY Review of Books by Fintan O’Toole on The Collected Plays of Edward Albee, Volume 1: 1958–65 , by Edward Albee, Overlook Duckworth)
From Sylvie Drake's Introduction at The Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Sunday February 16, 1997: Although we tend of late to talk about Edward Albee as a "three time Pulitzer winner", in actuality he has won three and a HALF times. The three awards were earned for "A Delicate Balance", "Seascape", and "Three Tall Women". He ALMOST received the award for Virginia Wolf. The jury had agreed on the play, but Pulitzer trustees found the play's language to be "dirty" and overturned the jury recommendation. Two jurors resigned in protest, so that year NO Pulitzer Prize was awarded in Theatre.
"Edward Albee is astonishing because his plays are". They reveal the extreme fragility of life. In a 1980 interview, Albee claimed that: "The Function of an education is to learn how to educate yourself when you get out of school"……
(Notes on a Colloquy with Edward Albee, by Richard Finkelstein at Artslynx International Arts Resources)

Edward Albee
Photos by James Bowdoin

Throughout the 1970s Albee also struggled with alcoholism, but while his “drying out” toward the end of the decade seems to have facilitated a new burst of creativity – with three new plays appearing in the four years at the start of the 1980s – the critical responses to his work proved more hostile than ever. The Lady from Dubuque (1980), Lolita (1981, adapted from Nabokov’s novel), and The Man Who Had Three Arms (1983) were all assaulted with a ferocity out of all proportion to whatever crimes against taste or dramaturgy they may have committed. Albee, it seemed, was now yesterday’s man, a remnant of the 1960s completely out of place in the new, Reaganite 1980s. But if Broadway had lost patience with Albee, the same may have been true in reverse. The Man Who Had Three Arms, in which a demented circuit lecturer rails against his audience (as “played” by the actual theatre audience), was a brutally scathing, deliberately “tasteless” attack on complacent, middlebrow values. Albee must surely have known that it was never going to run for long on Broadway (even Richard Barr refused to back it as producer), but he defiantly insisted on having The Man Who mounted there anyway. Biographer Mel Gussow reports that, on the morning the reviews came out, Albee “bought a copy of the Times in Times Square, read the deadly notice, and said to (his partner) Jonathan Thomas, ‘Oh well. That’s that. Let’s go home.’.....
It was nearly two decades before another new Albee play premiered on Broadway. The 1980s marked the beginning of Albee’s third career phase, during which he had, in effect, to start again from scratch, gradually rebuilding a life and reputation for himself. Regarded as a failed has-been in the New York theatre world, Albee decided to go where he was wanted, and began accepting invitations from colleges and universities to speak, to teach, and to direct plays. He developed, for example, a longstanding relationship with the University of Houston, in Texas, where he still regularly teaches a spring-semester playwriting class – thus continuing his commitment to mentoring new writing talent. Yet Albee’s own writing benefited, too, from this period in the theatrical “wilderness.” Various new plays were written to commission for small low-profile theatres, including Finding the Sun (1983) for the University of Northern Colorado, Marriage Play (1987) for the English Theatre in Vienna, Austria, and Fragments (1993) for the Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. At first glance, these relatively short pieces might also seem fairly insubstantial: indeed, Fragments is subtitled “A Sit-Around,” in self-deprecating recognition of that fact that the characters simply sit around and talk, without apparent purpose or “through-line.” Yet closer examination of these plays reveals all kinds of intriguing undercurrents in mood and characterization, as well as some ingenious formal games with scene structures. Released from the pressure of being a “major American playwright,” writing “major plays” for Broadway, Albee seems to have relished the chance to return to writing unassuming “chamber pieces” for more intimate spaces, just as he had with Listening and Counting the Ways – two companion one-acts that first appeared together in 1977 at the Hartford Stage Company, in Connecticut…..
(Introduction: The man who had three lives by STEPHEN BOTTOMS at Cambridge University Press)

List of Awards, etc:
1959 Berlin Festival Award
1960 The Vernon Rice Memorial Award and the Obie Award for The Zoo Story
1961 Foreign Press Association Award for The American Dream and The Death of Bessie Smith
1961 The Berlin Festival Award for The Death of Bessie Smith
1961 Lola D’Annunzio Award for The American Dream
1963 Two Tony Awards, the NY Drama Critics Circle Award, The Foreign Press Assoc. Award, American National Theatre and Academy Award, and Outer Circle Award for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
1966 Election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters
1967 The Pulitzer Prize for A Delicate Balance
1967 D. Litt., Emerson College
1974 D. Litt., Trinity College
1975 The Pulitzer Prize for Seascape
1980 Gold Medal in Drama from Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters
1994 The Pulitzer Prize, NY Drama Critics Circle Award, Lucille Lortel Award, London Evening Standard Award, and Outer Critics Circle Award for Three Tall Women
1994 Obie Award for Sustained Achievement in Theatre
1996 Tony Award, Best Revival of a Play, A Delicate Balance, Lincoln Center Theatre Broadway revival
1996 Kennedy Center Honors
1996 National Medal of Arts
(Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 8: Edward Albee." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide.)

Edward Albee

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