Monday, March 12, 2018

Born Today In 1928, Pulitzer Prize- and Tony-Winning Playwright Edward Albee


Edward Albee was born today, March 12, in 1928. Henwas an American playwright known for works such as The Zoo Story (1958), The Sandbox (1959), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), and A Delicate Balance (1966). Three of his plays won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and two of his other works won the Tony Award for Best Play.


His works are often considered as frank examinations of the modern condition. His early works reflect a mastery and Americanization of the Theatre of the Absurd that found its peak in works by European playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean Genet.

His middle period comprised plays that explored the psychology of maturing, marriage, and sexual relationships. Younger American playwrights, such as Paula Vogel, credit Albee's daring mix of theatricality and biting dialogue with helping to reinvent the post-war American theatre in the early 1960s. Later in his life, Albee continued to experiment in works such as The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (2002).

Edward Albee was born in 1928. He was placed for adoption two weeks later and taken to Larchmont in Westchester County, New York, where he grew up. Albee's adoptive father, Reed A. Albee, the wealthy son of vaudeville magnate Edward Franklin Albee II, owned several theaters. His adoptive mother, Reed's third wife, Frances (Cotter), was a socialite. He would later base the main character of his 1991 play Three Tall Women on his mother, with whom he had a conflicted relationship. The revival of that play is currently in previews on Broadway starring Glenda Jackson and Laurie Metcalf.

Albee left home for good when he was in his late teens. In a later interview, he said: "I never felt comfortable with the adoptive parents. I don't think they knew how to be parents. I probably didn't know how to be a son, either." In a 1994 interview, he stated that he left home at age 18 because "[he] had to get out of that stultifying, suffocating environment." In a 2008 interview, he told interviewer Charlie Rose that he was "thrown out" because his parents wanted him to become a "corporate thug" and did not approve of his aspirations to become a writer.

Albee moved into New York's Greenwich Village, where he supported himself with odd jobs while learning to write plays. His first play, The Zoo Story, which was written in three weeks, was first staged in Berlin in 1959 before eventually premiering Off-Broadway in 1960. His next play, The Death of Bessie Smith, similarly premiered in Berlin before arriving in New York.


Albee's most iconic play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, opened on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre on October 13, 1962, and closed on May 16, 1964, after five previews and 664 performances. The controversial play won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1963 and was selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize by the award's drama jury, but was overruled by the advisory committee, which elected not to give a drama award at all. The two members of the jury subsequently resigned in protest. An Academy Award-winning film adaptation of the controversial play was released in 1966 starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal, and Sandy Dennis. In 2013, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

According to the New York Times, Albee was "widely considered to be the foremost American playwright of his generation."
Albee received three Pulitzer Prizes for drama—for A Delicate Balance (1967), Seascape (1975), and Three Tall Women (1994).

In 2008, in celebration of Albee's eightieth birthday, a number of his plays were mounted in distinguished Off Broadway venues, including the historic Cherry Lane Theatre where the playwright directed two of his early one-acts, The American Dream and The Sandbox.

Albee established the Edward F. Albee Foundation, Inc. in 1967, from royalties from his play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The foundation funds the William Flanagan Memorial Creative Persons Center (named after the composer William Flanagan, but better known as "The Barn") in Montauk, New York, as a residence for writers and visual artists. The foundation's mission is "to serve writers and visual artists from all walks of life, by providing time and space in which to work without disturbance."

Albee was openly gay and stated that he first knew he was gay at age 12. Albee was briefly engaged to Larchmont debutante Delphine Weissinger, and although their relationship ended when she moved to England, he remained a close friend of the Weissinger family. Growing up, he often spent more of his time in the Weissinger household than he did in his own, due to discord with his adoptive parents.

Albee insisted that he did not want to be known as a "gay writer," stating in his acceptance speech for the 2011 Lambda Literary Foundation's Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement: "A writer who happens to be gay or lesbian must be able to transcend self. I am not a gay writer. I am a writer who happens to be gay." His longtime partner, Jonathan Richard Thomas, a sculptor, died on May 2, 2005, from bladder cancer. They had been partners from 1971 until Thomas's death. Albee also had a relationship of several years with playwright Terrence McNally during the 1950s.

Albee died at his Montauk, New York, home on September 16, 2016, at 88.

New York's Signature Theatre Annual Gala will take place on today and will honor Albee on what would have been his 90th Birthday. He was Signature's third Playwright-in-Residence during the 1993-94 Season and remained a loyal supporter of the company. Since his original season, Signature has produced several of his plays, including the current production of At Home at the Zoo: Homelife & The Zoo Story.

1 comment:

Bob Slatten said...

"I am a writer who happens to be gay."

I ranted about this the other day with all the talk about "gay skater Adam Rippon."

He's a skater who is gay. Subtle, but different.