Edward Albee

Edward Albee has been one of America’s most prominent and critically acclaimed playwrights for over six decades. Placed alongside the likes of Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, Albee’s works have won three Pulitzer Prizes and three Tony Awards. His best known play is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962).

Albee’s achievements in the theatre have been many and The Kennedy Center website has a useful biography of the playwright and his career. This article charts Albee’s early life in New York’s Greenwich Village and his first major work, The Zoo Story, in the late 1950s. Most interesting is references to the various styles and themes Albee has explored in different works, ranging from alienation and disillusionment to existentialism and absurdism.

In July 1966, the highly regarded literary magazine, The Paris Review, interviewed Albee about his life and work in the theatre up to that point. This lengthy interview provides a fascinating insight into the mind of one of America’s greatest playwrights. Among other things, it discusses Albee’s thoughts on the (then) recent film adaptation of his stage play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Albee was puzzled by the film company’s  choice for a first-time director, the screenwriter who was credited for writing “about 25 lines” while the rest was Albee’s play word for word, and his regret on a decision to move a scene in the film outside George and Martha’s residence to a roadhouse (this location was not in the play). The interview also reveals how Albee first thought of the idea for the play’s title one night in a bar:

I was in there having a beer one night, and I saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” scrawled in soap, I suppose, on this mirror. When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who’s afraid of living life without false illusions. (The Paris Review, Fall 1966)

In 2004, The Guardian newspaper published a comprehensive biography of Edward Albee, discussing his early years and the creative ups and downs of the 40s and 50s, until his career finally took off. The article also comments on how Albee was adopted into the Theatre of the Absurd movement by critic Martin Esslin, through to the success of several of his later works in recent years.

For theatre historians, The New York Times has archived a large number of previously published reviews from the newspaper of Edward Albee’s plays on Broadway from 1960 to 1994. Interesting reading.

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