Edward Albee 1928-
An acclaimed and controversial playwright, Albee is best known for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, his first full-length drama. Although initially characterized either as a realist or an absurdist, Albee combines elements from the American tradition of social criticism—established by such playwrights as Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O'Neill—with aspects of the Theater of the Absurd, as practiced by Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco. While Albee's plays often portray alienated individuals who suffer as a result of unjust social, moral, and religious strictures, his works usually offer solutions to conflicts rather than conveying an absurdist sense of inescapable determinism. As Matthew C. Roudané has declared, "Albee's is an affirmative vision of human experience. His vision underscores the importance of confronting one's inner and outer world of O'Neillean 'pipe-dreams,' or illusions. In the midst of a dehumanizing society, Albee's heroes, perhaps irrationally, affirm living." In a career spanning more than thirty years, Albee has received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama three times: for A Delicate Balance, Seascape, and Three Tall Women.
Albee is the adopted child of Reed and Frances Albee, heirs to the multi-million dollar fortune of American theater manager Edward Franklin Albee I. He began attending the theater and writing poetry at the age of six, wrote a three-act sex farce when he was twelve, and attempted two novels while a teenager. Many critics suggest that the tense family conflicts characteristic of Albee's dramas are derived from his childhood experiences. After attending several private and military schools and enrolling briefly at Trinity College in Connecticut, Albee achieved limited success as an author of poetry and fiction before turning to drama. Although he remained associated with off-Broadway theater until the production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, he first garnered critical and popular acclaim for his one-act dramas, which prompted comparisons to the works of Williams and Ionesco. In addition to the three Pulitzer prizes, Albee has received several other prestigious honors, including the Tony Award and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for his dramatic works.
Albee immediately established himself as a promising young playwright with his first mature play, The Zoo Story, which received its American debut on a double bill with a play by Samuel Beckett and which was favorably compared with the elder playwright's work. Albee continued to build his reputation as an innovator in the absurdist manner with such one-act plays as The Sandbox and The American Dream. Mainstream success came with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, produced on Broadway in 1961. This drama won a number of awards but, in a controversial decision, was denied the Pulitzer Prize. It was made into a film with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in 1966.
Albee continued to experiment with a variety of forms, subjects, and styles in his succeeding plays; and while several of them failed commercially and elicited scathing reviews for their abstract classicism and dialogue, many scholars have commended his commitment to theatrical experimentation and refusal to pander to commercial pressures. The unorthodox Tiny Alice, Albee's follow-up to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, was considered by some critics to be incomprehensible for the manner in which it deviates from realism with respect to setting, characterization, and internal time. Nevertheless, it has, in the years since its first performance, sparked a great deal of critical interest and commentary. While, for its part, A Delicate Balance was widely faulted for lacking action and cohesive ideas, it nevertheless garnered approval for its synthesis of dramatic elements and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Similarly, Albee's second Pulitzer Prize-winning work, Seascape, was regarded by some as pretentious but was commended overall for its lyrical quality and insights into the human condition. After several critical and financial disappointments in the 1980s, including The Lady from Dubuque (which closed after only twelve performances) and The Man Who Had Three Arms, Albee returned in 1991 with Three Tall Women, for which he received his third Pulitzer. His most recent work is The Play about the Baby, which was produced in 1998.
The Zoo Story 1959
The Death of Bessie Smith 1960
Fam and Yam 1960
The Sandbox 1960
The American Dream 1961
Bartleby [adaptor, with James Hinton (libretto) and William Flanagan (music); from the short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street" by Herman Melville] (opera) 1961
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 1962
The Ballad of the Sad Café [adaptor; from the novella by Carson McCullers] 1963
Tiny Alice 1964
A Delicate Balance 1966
Malcolm [adaptor; from the novel by James Purdy] 1966
Everything in the Garden [adaptor; from the drama by Giles Cooper] 1967
*Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung 1968
All Over 1971
Counting the Ways: A Vaudeville 1977
†Listening: A Chamber Play 1977
The Lady from Dubuque 1980
Lolita [adaptor; from the novel by Vladimir Nabokov] 1981
The Man Who Had Three Arms 1982
Finding the Sun 1983
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Which Theatre is the Absurd One? (1962)
SOURCE: "Which Theatre is the Absurd One?" in The New York Times Magazine, 25 February 1962, pp. 30-1, 64, 66.
[In the following piece, Albee addresses the label, Theatre of the Absurd, that had been attached to his work. He argues that "The Theatre of the Absurd, in the sense that it is truly the contemporary theatre, facing as it does man's condition as it is, is the Realistic theatre of our time; and that the supposed Realistic theatre—the term used here to mean most of what is done on Broadway—in the sense that it panders to the public need for self-congratulation and reassurance and presents a false picture of ourselves to ourselves is … really and truly The Theatre of the Absurd."]
A theatre person of my acquaintance—a man whose judgment must be respected, though more for the infallibility of his intuition than for his reasoning—remarked just the other week, "The Theatre of the Absurd has had it; it's on its way out; it's through."
Now this, on the surface of it, seems to be a pretty funny attitude to be taking toward a theatre movement which has, only in the past couple of years, been impressing itself on the American public consciousness. Or is it? Must we judge that a theatre of such plays as Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, Jean Genet's The Balcony (both long, long runners...
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Overviews And General Studies
Tom F. Driver (essay date 1964)
SOURCE: "What's the Matter with Edward Albee?," in American Drama and Its Critics: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Alan S. Downer, University of Chicago Press, 1965, pp. 240-44.
[The essay below contains a harshly negative assessment of Albee's work through Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and asserts that this play enacts "homosexual liaisons. "]
The nation's publicity media, desperately in search of a "gifted young playwright," and unable to practice that asceticism of taste which is the requisite of culture, have praised the mediocre work of Edward Albee as if it were excellence. They have made the author of six bad plays into a man of fame and fortune, which is his good luck. They have also made him into a cultural hero, which is not good for anybody. It is time to disentangle our judgments of his merits from the phenomenon of his popularity.
Four of Edward Albee's six bad plays are too short to fill an evening. Another is a dead adaptation of a famous story. The sixth is the most pretentious American play since Mourning Becomes Electro. In each of these works there are serious, even damning, faults obvious to anyone not predisposed to overlook them. To get Albee in perspective, we should examine first the faults and then the predisposition of the audience not to see them. As a maker of...
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Amacher, Richard E. and Margaret Rule. Edward Albee at Home and Abroad: A Bibliography. New York: AMS Press, 1973,95 p.
Features primary and secondary sources from England, Germany, Switzerland, and other countries as well as the United States.
Giantvalley, Scott. Edward Albee: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1987,459 p.
Comprehensive annotated collection of sources.
Green, Charles Lee. Edward Albee: An Annotated Bibliography, 1968-1977. New York: AMS Press, 1980,150 p.
Chronological listing of sources designed as a supple ment to the work of Amacher and Rule.
Tyce, Richatd.Edward Albee: A Bibliography. Metuchen, N. J.: The Scarecrow Press, 1986,212 p.
Includes a chronology of initial productions of Albee's plays, and information on their first publications, as well as a listing of critical studies.
Kolin, Philip C, ed. Conversations with Edward Albee. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988,223 p.
Contains over two dozen interviews from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Samuels, Steven. "Yes is Better Than No." American Theatre 11, No. 7 (September 1994): 38.
Interview in which Albee discusses the success of Three Tall...
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