Albee, Edward 1928–
Albee, Edward 1928–
(Edward Franklin Albee III)
PERSONAL: Surname pronounced All-bee; born March 12, 1928, probably in VA; adopted son of Reed A. (part-owner of Keith-Albee theater circuit) and Frances (Cotter) Albee; partner and lifelong friend of composer and music critic William Flanagan (1951–59), playwright Terence McNally (1959–63), decorator William Pennington (1963–71), and artist, Jonathon Thomas (1971–). Education: Rye Country Day School, Lawrence, New Jersey, 1940–43, Valley Forge Military Academy, Pennsylvania, 1946–47 (expelled from both), Choate School, Connecticut, 1944–46 (where he first wrote—a play, a novel, poems, and short stories), Trinity College, Hartford, CT, 1946–47, Columbia University, 1949. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, playing the harpsichord.
ADDRESSES: Office—14 Harrison St., New York, NY 10013.
CAREER: Writer, producer, and director of plays. Served in the U.S. Army. Worked as continuity writer for WNYC-radio, office boy for Warwick & Legler (advertising agency), record salesman for G. Schirmer, Inc. (music publishers), and counterman in luncheonette of Manhattan Towers Hotel; messenger for Western Union, 1955–58. Producer, with Richard Barr and Clinton Wilder, New Playwrights Unit Workshop, 1963–; director of touring retrospective of his one-act plays including, The Zoo Story, The American Dream, Fam and Yam, The Sandbox, Box, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, Counting the Ways, and Listening, produced as Albee Directs Albee, 1978–79; co-director of Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York, NY, 1979–81. Founder of William Flanagan Center for Creative Persons in Montauk, NY, 1971. Lecturer at colleges, including Brandeis University, Johns Hopkins University, and Webster University. Cultural exchange visitor to Latin American countries and the U.S.S.R. for U.S. State Department, 1961, 1963. President of Edward F. Albee Foundation. Resident playwright, Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, Florida, 1982. Regents Professor of Drama, University of California at Irvine, 1983–85. Instructor/Artist-in-Residence, University of Houston, 1988–.
MEMBER: PEN American Center, National Academy of Arts and Letters, Dramatists Guild, National Endowment grant-giving council Dramatists Guild Council, governing commission of New York State Council for the Arts, Theater Hall of Fame.
AWARDS, HONORS: Berlin Festival Award, 1959, for The Zoo Story, and 1961, for The Death of Bessie Smith; Vernon Rice Memorial Award, and Obie Award, 1960, and Argentine Critics Circle Award, 1961, all for The Zoo Story; The Death of Bessie Smith and The American Dream were chosen as best plays of the 1960–61 season by Foreign Press Association, 1961; Lola D'Annunzio Award, 1961, for The American Dream; selected as most promising playwright of 1962–63 season by New York Drama Critics, 1963; New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Foreign Press Association Award, Antoinette Perry Award (Tony), Outer Circle Award, Saturday Review Drama Critics Award, and Variety Drama Critics' Poll Award, 1963, and Evening Standard Award, 1964, all for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Tony Award nominee for best play, 1964, for The Ballad of the Sad Café; with Richard Barr and Clinton Wilder, recipient of Margo Jones Award, 1965, for encouraging new playwrights; Tony Award nominee both for author, and best play, 1965, for Tiny Alice; Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award nominee for best play, 1967, for A Delicate Balance; Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award nominee for best play, 1975, for Seascape; D.Litt., Emerson College, 1967, and Trinity College, 1974; American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal, 1980; inducted into Theater Hall of Fame, 1985; Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Three Tall Women, 1994; Obie Award for Sustained Achievement in the American Theater, 1994; Kennedy Center Honoree, 1996; National Medal of Arts, 1996; Tony Award for best play, 2002, for The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?
PLAYS, EXCEPT AS NOTED
The Zoo Story, The Death of Bessie Smith, The Sandbox: Three Plays (The Zoo Story, first produced [in German] in Berlin at Schiller Theater Werkstatt, September 28, 1959, produced off-Broadway at Provincetown Playhouse, January 14, 1960; The Death of Bessie Smith, first produced in Berlin at Schlosspark Theater, April 21, 1960, produced off-Broadway at York Playhouse, February 28, 1961; The Sandbox, first produced in New York City at Jazz Gallery, May 15, 1960, produced off-Broadway at Cherry Lane Theatre, February, 1962, directed by author), Coward McCann (New York, NY), 1960, published with The American Dream (also see below) as The Zoo Story and Other Plays, J. Cape, 1962, and as The American Dream; and Zoo Story: Two Plays, Plume (New York, NY), 1997.
(Author of libretto with James Hinton, Jr.) Bartleby (opera; adaptation of story by Herman Melville; music by William Flanagan), produced off-Broadway at York Playhouse, January 24, 1961.
The American Dream, with introduction by the author (produced off-Broadway at York Playhouse, January 24, 1961), Coward McCann (New York, NY), 1961.
Fam and Yam (produced in Westport, CT, at White Barn Theatre, August 27, 1960), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1961.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (produced on Broadway at Billy Rose Theatre, October 13, 1962), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1962.
The Ballad of the Sad Café (adaptation of novella of same title by Carson McCullers; produced on Broadway at Martin Beck Theatre, October 30, 1963), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1963, Scribner Classics (New York, NY), 2001.
Tiny Alice (produced on Broadway at Billy Rose Theatre, December 29, 1964), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1965.
Malcolm (adaptation of novel of same title by James Purdy; produced on Broadway at Sam S. Shubert Theatre, January 11, 1966), Atheneum, 1966.
A Delicate Balance (produced on Broadway at Martin Beck Theatre, September 22, 1966), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1966, Plume (New York, NY), 1997.
Breakfast at Tiffany's (musical; adaptation of story of same title by Truman Capote; music by Bob Merrill), produced in Philadelphia, PA, 1966, produced on Broadway at Majestic Theatre, December, 1966.
Everything in the Garden (based on play by Giles Cooper; produced on Broadway at Plymouth Theatre, November 29, 1967), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1968.
Box [and] Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (two interrelated plays; first produced at Studio Arena Theatre, Buffalo, NY; produced on Broadway at Billy Rose Theatre, September 30, 1968), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1969.
All Over (produced on Broadway at Martin Beck Theatre, January 26, 1971; produced in London by Royal Shakespeare Company at Aldwych Theatre, January 31, 1972), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1971.
Seascape (produced on Broadway at Sam S. Shubert Theatre, January 26, 1975, directed by author), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1975.
Counting the Ways [and] Listening: Two Plays (Counting the Ways, first produced in London by National Theatre Company, 1976, produced by Hartford Stage Company, Hartford, CT, January 28, 1977; Listening: A Chamber Play [produced as radio play by British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), 1976], first produced on stage by Hartford Stage Company, Hartford, January 28, 1977), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1977.
The Lady from Dubuque (produced on Broadway at Morosco Theatre, January 31, 1980), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1980.
Lolita (adaptation of novel of same title by Vladimir Nabokov), first produced in Boston at Wilbur Theatre, January 15, 1981, produced on Broadway at Brooks Atkinson Theatre, March 19, 1981, published as Lolita: A Play, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1984.
1981–82 The Plays (four volumes), Atheneum (New York, NY).
Alice, A Delicate Balance, Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1982.
Counting the Ways, Listening, All Over, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1982.
Everything in the Garden, Malcolm, The Ballad of the Sad Café, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1982.
The Man Who Had Three Arms, first produced in Miami, FL, at New World Festival, June 10, 1982, directed by the author; produced in Chicago, IL at Goodman Theater, October 4, 1982, directed by the author.
Edward Albee: An Interview and Essays, edited by Julian N. Wasserman, University of St. Thomas, 1983.
Finding the Sun (first produced in 1983, New York premiere at the Signature Theatre Company, February, 1994), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1994.
Envy in Faustus in Hell, (produced Princeton, NJ, 1985).
Marriage Play, first produced at the English Theatre in Vienna, 1987, American premiere at the McCarter Theater in Princeton, NJ, February 22, 1992; Edward Albee's Marriage Play, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1995.
Selected Plays of Edward Albee, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1987.
Conversations with Edward Albee, edited by Philip C. Kolin, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1988.
Straight through the Night (novel), Soho (New York, NY), 1989.
Three Tall Women (two-act play; first produced at the English Theatre in Vienna, June, 1991, New York City premiere at the Vineyard Theatre, February 13, 1994), Dutton (New York, NY), 1995.
The Lorca Play, (produced at the Alley Theatre, Houston, TX, April 24, 1992).
Fragments: A Sit Around (premiered at Ensemble Theater of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, November, 1993, New York opening at Signature Theatre Company, 1994), published as Edward Albee's Fragments: A Sit-Around, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1995.
The Play about the Baby, (first produced at Almeida Theatre, London, September 1, 1998; Houston, TX, Alley Theatre, April 11, 2000; New York, February 1, 2001), Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 2002, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2003.
From Idea to Matter: Nine Sculptors …, Anderson Gallery (Richmond, VA), 2000.
(With Sam Hunter) Tony Rosenthal (literary criticism), Rizzoli (New York, NY), 2000.
(With Carson McCullers) The Ballad of the Sad Café: Carson McCullers's Novella Adapted to the Stage, Scribner Classics (New York, NY), 2001.
Occupant, (produced at the John Golden Theatre, New York, 2002).
The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (first produced at the John Golden Theatre in New York, March 10, 2002), Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2003.
Peter and Jerry, Hartford Stage (Hartford, CT), 2004.
AUTHOR OF INTRODUCTION
Noel Coward, Three Plays by Noel Coward: Blithe Spirit, Hay Fever, [and] Private Lives, Delta (New York, NY), 1965.
Phyllis Johnson Kaye, editor, National Playwrights Directory, 2nd edition, Eugene O'Neill Theater Center (Waterford, CT), 1981.
(With Sabina Lietzmann) New York, Vendome Press (New York, NY), 1981.
Louise Nevelson: Atmospheres and Environments, Clarkson N. Potter (New York, NY), 1981.
Three Tall Women: A Play in Two Acts, Dutton (New York, NY), 1994.
Also author of screenplays, including an adaptation of Le Locataire (title means "The Tenant"), a novel by Roland Topor, an adaptation of his The Death of Bessie Smith, one about the life of Nijinsky, one about Stanford White and Evelyn Nesbitt, and A Delicate Balance, American Film Theater, 1973. Contributor to anthologies, including American Playwrights on Drama, edited by Horst Frenz, Hill & Wang, 1965; The Off-Broadway Experience, edited by Howard Greenberger, Prentice-Hall, 1971. Also contributor to periodicals, including Harper's Bazaar, Saturday Review, and Dramatists Guild Quarterly.
ADAPTATIONS: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was adapted and filmed by Warner Bros. in 1966.
Albee's play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was revived on Broadway at the Longacre Theater in a production directed by Anthony Page and starring Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin.
SIDELIGHTS: Reviewing the numerous commentaries written about Edward Albee's plays, C.W.E. Bigsby noted in Edward Albee: A Collection of Critical Essays that in comparison to Albee "few playwrights … have been so frequently and mischievously misunderstood, misrepresented, overpraised, denigrated, and precipitately dismissed." Capsulizing the changing tone of Albee criticism since the early-1960s (when his first play appeared), Bigsby offered this overview: "Canonized after … The Zoo Story, [Albee] found himself in swift succession billed as America's most promising playwright, leading dramatist, and then, with astonishing suddenness, a 'one-hit' writer…. The progression was essentially that suggested by George in [Albee's] Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, 'better, best, bested.'"
To symbolize the curve of Albee's reputation as a dramatist, Bigsby chose a phrase from a play designated by many critics as a dividing line in the playwright's career. T.E. Kalem, for example, in Time remarked: "Albee almost seems to have lived through two careers, one very exciting, the other increasingly depressing. From The Zoo Story through The American Dream to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, he displayed great gusto, waspish humor and feral power. In the succeeding … years, he has foundered in murky metaphysics,… dabbled in adaptations,… and gone down experimental blind alleys." Confusing him with more nihilist European absurdist playwrights, many critics have failed to understand the autobiographical sources of his writing and the more hopeful nature of his message, as Lincoln Konkle pointed out in the Dictionary of Literary Biography entry on Albee. Matthew C. Roudané has declared, "Albe's is an affirmative vision of human experience…. In the midst of a dehumanizing society, Albee's heroes, perhaps irrationally, affirm living."
However, many critics have praised these same plays. Albee continues to win awards; he has received three Pulitzer Prizes since Virginia Woolf, one in 1967 for A Delicate Balance, one in 1975, for Seascape, and, in 1994, a third for his autobiographical drama Three Tall Women. His three Pulitzer Prizes place him in the ranks of such notable dramatists as Tennessee Williams, holder of two Pulitzers, Robert E. Sherwood, a three-time winner, and four-time honoree Eugene O'Neill.
Although stylistically varied, Albee's plays are thematically connected. Gerald Weales in The Jumping Off Place: American Drama in the 1960s noted: "Each new Albee play seems to be an experiment in form, in style,… and yet there is unity to his work as a whole. This is apparent in the devices and the characters that recur, modified according to context, but it is most obvious in the repetition of theme, in the basic assumptions about the human condition that underlie all his work."
Reviewing Albee's touring retrospective of eight of his one-act plays, "Albee Directs Albee," Sylvie Drake of the Los Angeles Times observed: "This condensation of work reveals Albee's consistent and enduring concern with loss…. 'Pain is understanding,' says someone in [Albee's play] 'Counting the Ways.' 'It's really loss.' Yes. These plays are all about loss." In her analysis of Albee's plays Drake also discovered the following themes: "the chasm between people, [and] their inability to connect except through pain."
John MacNicholas, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, said the development of these themes in Albee's plays started with his first play, The Zoo Story. According to Brian Way in American Theatre, this play, a tale of a fairly prosperous married man and his confrontation on a Central Park bench with a totally alienated young drifter, "is an exploration of the farce and agony of human isolation." George Wellwarth, in The Theater of Protest and Paradox: Development in the Avant-Garde Drama, explained the play's thematic content in more detail: "[Albee] is exemplifying or demonstrating a theme. That theme is the enormous and usually insuperable difficulty that human beings find in communicating with each other. More precisely, it is about the maddening effect that the enforced loneliness of the human condition has on the person who is cursed (for in our society it undoubtedly is a curse) with an infinite capacity for love."
Albee's thematic preoccupation with loss of contact between individuals is tied to the playwright's desire to make a statement about American values, as Weales pointed out. "In much of his work," according to the critic, "there is a suggestion … that the emptiness and loneliness of the characters are somehow the result of a collapse of values in the Western world, in general, in the United States, in particular." Albee finds the feelings of loss and emptiness prevalent in the society that surrounds him.
Following The Zoo Story, three Albee plays opened in New York during 1960–61. All of these—The Sandbox, The American Dream, and The Death of Bessie Smith—"attack certain features in American society," according to MacNicholas. The Death of Bessie Smith, for example, deals with the death of the black singer who bled to death after an automobile accident, apparently because she was denied care at a nearby all-white hospital. The American Dream and The Sandbox share the same characters—Mommy, Daddy, and Grandma. MacNicholas feels that these two plays "form a continuum in subject matter and technique; both attack indifference to love, pity, and compassion. In both,… the characters … live in a kind of moral narcosis."
Allen Lewis, in American Plays and Playwrights of the Contemporary Theatre, commented: "The American Dream is a wildly imaginative caricature of the American family…. [In this play] Albee is the angry young man, tearing apart the antiseptic mirage of American middle-class happiness." The American family of the play is comprised of characters known only as "Mommy" (a domineering shrew), "Daddy" (a weak, hen-pecked husband), and "Grandma" (an older version of "Mommy"). Set in the family's stuffy apartment, the play includes the story of the couple's adoption of a "bumble of joy" whom they destroy after discovering his various defects. (For example, they cut out his tongue when he says a dirty word.) As he grows up, Mommy and Daddy complain that the baby has no head on his shoulders, is spineless, and has feet of clay. They complain again when he dies after having already been paid for. Near the end of the play, the baby's twin appears. He is a handsome young man who describes himself as a "clean-cut midwest farm boy type, almost insultingly good-looking in a typically American way." "The young man," as Frederick Lumley noted in New Trends in Twentieth Century Drama, "feels that he is incomplete, he doesn't know what has happened to something within him, but he has no touch, he is unable to make love, to see anything with pity; in fact he has no feeling." Continuing his interpretation of the play, Lewis stated: "The American Dream [of the title] is the young man who is all appearance and no feelings…. He says: 'I cannot touch another person and feel love…. I have no emotions…. I have now only my person … my body, my face…. I let people love me…. I feel nothing.'"
In his preface to The American Dream, Albee explains the play's content: "The play is an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, emasculation and vacuity; it is a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen." According to MacNicholas, Albee continues his critique of American society in his first three-act play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Many critics note a relationship between this play and The American Dream. Martin Esslin, writing in The Theatre of the Absurd, commented: "A closer inspection reveals elements which clearly … relate [Virginia Woolf] to Albee's earlier work…. George and Martha [a couple in the play] (there are echoes here of George and Martha Washington) have an imaginary child which they treat as real, until in the cold dawn of that wild night [in which the action of the play takes place] they decide to 'kill' it by abandoning their joint fantasy. Here the connection to The American Dream with its horrid dream-child of the ideal all-American boy becomes clear…. Is the dream-child which cannot become real among people torn by ambition and lust something like the American ideal itself?"
Drake found George and Martha of Virginia Woolf directly related to Mommy and Daddy of The American Dream. Lumley described this evolution: "The Mommy and Daddy of … Virginia Woolf are this time given names, Martha and George, thus becoming individuals instead of abstract characters…. They have been unable to have children; so that their love is mixed-up sexual humiliation, a strong love-hate relationship which makes them want to hurt and claw and wound each other because they know each other and cannot do without one another." In the Arizona Quarterly, James P. Quinn described the combination of social criticism and the theme of human isolation in Virginia Woolf: "In [the play] the author parodies the ideals of western civilization…. Thus, romantic love, marriage, sex, the family, status, competition, power all the 'illusions' man has erected to eliminate the differences between self and others and to escape the … burden of his freedom and loneliness come under attack."
Critics noted the continuation of theme and social awareness throughout Albee's work. For example, Harold Clurman, in his Nation review of All Over, wrote: "Albee is saying [in this play] that despite all the hasty bickering, the fierce hostility and the mutual misunderstandings which separate us, we need one another. We cry out in agony when we are cut off." Bigsby, commenting on the same play, concluded: "Albee's concern in All Over is essentially that of his earlier work. He remains intent on penetrating the bland urbanities of social life in an attempt to identify the crucial failure of nerve which has brought individual men and whole societies to the point of not merely soulless anomie but even of apocalypse."
Bigsby also found similar characteristics in Albee's play Box, calling it "a protest against the dangerously declining quality of life—a decline marked … by the growth of an amoral technology with a momentum and direction of its own." MacNicholas noted Albee's preoccupation with loss in A Delicate Balance: "[The play] concerns itself with loss: not loss which occurs in one swift traumatic stroke, but that which evolves slowly in increments of gentle and lethal acquiescence."
Then, in what several critics have referred to as phoenix-like fashion, Albee was seemingly reborn as a popular and critically successful artist during the 1993–94 New York theater season in off-and off-off-Broadway houses similar in spirit to the fringe theaters Albee and his contemporaries helped nourish in the 1960s, during the early days of avant-garde American playwriting. One such artistic enclave, the Signature Theatre, a non-profit company in lower Manhattan, brought Albee aboard as its playwright-in-residence and dedicated an entire season to his works, proving that at least some producers remembered his allegedly forgotten plays. The lineup included a variety of full-length dramas and one-acts, old and new. Among them were Finding the Sun, a long 1983 one-act in twenty-two vignettes, involving the interaction of eight characters on a New England beach; Marriage Play, Albee's 1987 sparring match between a long-wed husband and wife that elicited several comparisons to Virginia Woolf; and Fragments: A Sit Around.
Rounding off the list were two one-act collections. The first, Listening: A Chamber Play, and Counting the Ways were originally presented in London at the National Theatre in 1976, then in America at the Hartford Stage Company in Connecticut. These plays represent Albee's experimental writing in the middle part of his career. In a New York Times review, Ben Brantley suggested that both "are essentially linguistic chamber works…. Though they are radically different in tone, their preoccupation with the slipperiness of language and perception and with the opacity of what truly lies behind it is much the same. The questions posed reverberate without answers and are often as unapologetically naked as 'Who am I?' 'Who are you?' and 'Do you love me?'"
The next short play bill, collectively entitled Sand, was directed by Albee himself and included three representative pieces, Box (1968), The Sandbox (1960), and Finding the Sun (1983). While the Signature season provided him a rare opportunity to revisit several old works and try out new ideas, it was the 1994 New York premiere of his 1991 play Three Tall Women a few blocks north at the Vineyard Theater that earned Albee his greatest accolades since Virginia Woolf, including a third Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award.
Autobiographical in content, Three Tall Women is an examination of the life of a wealthy, boisterous, strong-minded woman nearly a century old. The first act consists of a conversation between this often cantankerous dowager, known only as A; her sympathetic, middle-aged caretaker, B; and C, her twenty-six-year-old lawyer. These are Albee's "three tall women" in their first incarnation. A's physical condition is deteriorating rapidly—she is frequently incontinent and has recently broken an arm that will not heal—and her mental state is precarious. As she attempts to put her affairs in order with C and reminisces about her experiences, she alternates between an amazing perceptiveness and scandalous wit, and amnesic episodes accompanied by childlike tantrums. She can't remember if she is ninety-one or ninety-two, or whether close friends are alive or dead, but can relate tales from her courtship and early years of marriage in great detail.
The fifty-two-year-old B has become inured to the abuse A frequently heaps upon her, and to the personal tasks she must help the older woman perform. In her own climbing years B waxes philosophically about the natural aging process. C is both attracted to and repulsed by the behavior of her elders. She giggles at A's anecdotes of her early sexual escapades (though A claims to have been the "wild one" her behavior was prudish by C's youthful standards), then she is shocked at A's casual, overt racism, bigotry, and insensitivity. The first act ends with A lying in bed lamenting the breakdown in her relationships with her own mother, whom she cared for in her old age, and her homosexual son, who couldn't stand her intolerance and left her when he was still a teenager. Her rambling diatribe ends suddenly, and upon examining her, B announces A has suffered a stroke.
A transformation occurs between acts, and when the curtain rises on the second half of Three Tall Women, a mannequin representation of A occupies the bed while the actresses playing A, B, and C are revealed as the same woman at three different stages of life, all attending what will soon be her own deathbed. This partition of the elderly A's life allows the playwright the opportunity to examine his character from three distinct, yet similar points of view.
C remembers her glory days, when she and her sister worked as department store models and cavorted innocently, and not so innocently, with boys, all the while waiting for "the man of my dreams." Hers is the voice of youth and naivete, silly yet romantically appealing. B, the realist, has fresher adult memories of the man of her dreams, including both her and her husband's extramarital affairs. She also recalls, quite vividly, opening her son's mail and finding admiring notes from older men, then arguing with him, and watching him exit her life for the next twenty years. A remembers the six agonizing years it took for her husband to die of cancer, and how she sold her jewelry a little at a time to meet expenses, replacing it with replicas to maintain appearances. In the final moments of the play, the three tall women, multiple facets of the same spirit, share what they feel has been their happiest moment. For the youthful C it is uncertain. It may have been her confirmation or, better yet, perhaps they are still to come. B's happiest moment is the here and now, "half of being adult done," she says, "the rest ahead of me. Old enough to be a little wise, past being really dumb." As they all join hands A reveals her happiest moment will be "coming to the end of it; yes…. That's the happiest moment. When it's all done. When we stop. When we can stop."
Following the success of Three Tall Women in New York, Albee admitted in interviews that the play's main character was directly inspired by his own adoptive mother, Frances Cotter Albee, who expelled the eighteen-year-old Albee from his family's home for his homosexuality, and later removed him from her will. As Albee told David Richards of the New York Times, "The play is a kind of exorcism…. I didn't end up any more fond of the woman after I finished it than when I started. But it allowed me to come to terms with the long unpleasant life she led and develop a little respect for her independence. She was destructive, but she had lots of reasons to be. It's there on the stage, all the good stuff and the bad stuff." Though elements of his own life and family had crept into his plays before, notably in The American Dream and Finding the Sun, Albee did not feel free enough to write particularly about his mother until after her death at the age of ninety-two in 1990. In the New Yorker, John Lahr suggested that the "last great gift a parent gives to a child is his or her own death, and the energy underneath Three Tall Women is the exhilaration of a writer calling it quits with the past." Robert Brustein asserted in the New Republic that "Three Tall Women is a mature piece of writing … in which Albee seems to be coming to terms not only with a socialite foster parent,… but with his own advancing age."
The rest of the 1990s and the early 2000s continued with further productions but many mixed reviews. A Delicate Balance was revived in 1996 to win Tonys for best revival, direction and actor. It also ran successfully in London. The Play about the Baby, appearing 1998 through 2001, brought such mixed reactions that it appeared both on best-of-the-year-in-theater and worst-of-the-year-in-theater lists. The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? was Albee's first play on Broadway after the 1983 production of The Man Who Had Three Arms, and Albee warned that it would be his most controversial play because it dealt with bestiality. According to Konkle, its real theme is the mercurial nature of love. The Goat, despite divided responses, received the 2002 Tony and Drama Desk Awards for best new play of the year.
As Konkle concluded, Albee, with a career spanning six decades, has influenced some of the most important twentieth-century playwrights, such as Tom Stoppard and David Mamet. More directly, he has supported young artists through the Playwrights Unit and the Flanagan Center. He has received many honorary doc torates, and his plays have been produced all over the world. Many drama critics and scholars credit him with "practically inventing Off-Broadway singlehandedly…. He has enjoyed success but not made that his priority, so that he could expand the possibilities of theater and drama and continue to post tough moral and philosophical questions to his audiences."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Amacher, Richard E., Edward Albee, Twayne (New York, NY), 1969.
Amacher, Richard E., and Margaret Rule, Edward Albee at Home and Abroad: A Bibliography 1958–June 1968, AMS Press (New York, NY), 1970.
Bigsby, C.W. E., Albee, Oliver & Boyd, 1969.
Bigsby, C.W. E., editor, Edward Albee: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice-Hall, 1975.
Bloom, Harold, editor, Edward Albee, Chelsea House, 1987.
Brown, John Russell, and Bernard Harris, editors, American Theatre, Edward Arnold, 1967.
Bryer, Jackson R., editor, The Playwright's Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Dramatists, Rutgers University Press (New Brunswick, NJ), 1995.
Cohn, Ruby, Edward Albee, University of Minnesota Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1969.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 3, 1975, Volume 5, 1976, Volume 9, 1978, Volume 11, 1979, Volume 13, 1980, Volume 25, 1983, Volume 53, 1989, Volume 86, 1995.
Debusscher, Gilbert, Edward Albee: Tradition and Renewal, American Studies Center (Brussels, Belgium), 1967.
De La Fuente, Patricia, editor, Edward Albee, Planned Wilderness: Interviews, Essays, and Bibliography, Living Author Series, Number 3, Pan American University (Edinburgh, TX), 1980.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 7: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Part I, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1981.
Downer, Alan S., editor, American Drama and Its Critics: A Collection of Critical Essays, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1965.
Esslin, Martin, The Theatre of the Absurd, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1969.
Giantvalley, Scott, Edward Albee: A Reference Guide, G.K. Hall, 1987.
Green, Charles Lee, Edward Albee: An Annotated Bibliography 1968–1977, AMS Press (New York, NY), 1980.
Gussow, Mel, Edward Albee: A Singular Journey, Simon & Schuster, 1999.
Hayman, Ronald, Edward Albee, Heinemann (London, England), 1971, Ungar (New ork, NY), 1973.
Hirsch, Foster, Who's Afraid of Edward Albee, Creative Arts (Berkeley, CA), 1978.
Kolin, Philip C., and J. Madison Davis, editors, Critical Essays on Edward Albee, G.K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1986.
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Konkle, Lincoln, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 266: Twentieth-Century American Dramatists, Fourth Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.
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Edward Albee (video), edited and presented by Melvyn Bragg, London Weekend Television in association with RM Arts, Films for the Humanities, 1996.