Albee, Edward (Vol. 13)
Albee, Edward 1928–
Albee is an American dramatist whose best plays rank among the finest in contemporary theater. The problem of human communication in a world of increasing callousness is a recurrent concern in his works, notably The Zoo Story, The American Dream, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Albee's plays are noted for their powerful language and reveal a fine sense of dramatic tension. He was twice the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and has also written fiction and poetry. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)
Rose A. Zimbardo
Somewhat startling is the realization that Albee's are traditional Christian symbols which, despite their modern dress, retain their original significance—or, more precisely, express their original significance in modern terms. The relationship between traditional symbol and naturalistic dialogue, situation and setting is, however, never forced, as it so often is in, say, a Williams' play. (p. 45)
What Albee has written in The Zoo Story is a modern Morality play. The theme is the centuries old one of human isolation and salvation through sacrifice. Man in his natural state is alone, a prisoner of Self. If he succumbs to fear he enforces his isolation in denying it. Pretending that he is not alone, he surrounds himself with things and ideas that bolster the barrier between himself and all other creatures. The good man first takes stock of himself. Once he has understood his condition, realized his animality and the limitations imposed upon him by Self, he is driven to prove his kinship with all other things and creatures, "with a bed, with a cockroach, with a mirror…." (The progression that Jerry describes is Platonic.) In proving this kinship he is extending his boundaries, defying Self, proving his humanity, since the kinship of all nature can be recognized only by the animal who has within him a spark of divinity. He finds at last, if he has been completely truthful in his search, that the only way in which he can smash...
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Just as Mr. Albee used the name Nick in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to suggest that the character was related to Nikita Khrushchev and was therefore an exponent of a totalitarian society, so he occasionally enriches moments in Tiny Alice with verbal puzzles. For instance, Julian will paraphrase the words of Jesus, but to interpret Julian as Jesus would be carrying the analogy further than the author intended. On a more realistic level, the playwright reminds us that most religious people relate themselves to Christ in their hallucinations. And he also believes that Julian is like many religiously dedicated people in being subconsciously motivated by sexual repression. (pp. 100-01)
[The] ending may seem more negative than was intended…. [The] sound of heartbeats and heavy breathing as the doors open have been widely misinterpreted as being those of an increasingly terrified Julian, whereas they are meant to belong to whatever comes through the door…. While the author intended the ending to be terrifying, he also wished to leave the audience with two possibilities for Julian: total hallucination or the personification of the abstraction. (pp. 101-02)
[The] playwright wishes the audience would come to Tiny Alice with fewer preconceptions, to experience the play as we experience music. "If you are not a trained musician," he says, "you intuit the structure of the piece by osmosis." Thus, as an...
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Albee is progressing. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was about the emptiness that surrounds and threatens to swallow our relationships; Tiny Alice was about the void lurking behind our deepest beliefs; now, A Delicate Balance is about the nothingness, the bare nothingness of it all—it is a play about nothing…. [The] nothingness—perhaps more accurately nothingness—of Albee's play is petty, self-indulgent, stationary. Albee's nothing is as dull as anything. (p. 96)
I am tired of this mythical "meaningless world" when the playwright fails to create or suggest any outer world (one isolated reference to income taxes might as well have been to Chinese calligraphy), and when he neglects to indicate what meaningfulness might have been before it got mislaid. This posturing play abounds in the cocktail-party profundities and family-reunion soundings that bloated up Eliot's drama, but at least Eliot was, however flatfootedly, after some sort of myth or metaphysic. (pp. 97-8)
Albee is in love with language, which sets him above your average playwright who does not even realize that language exists, but, for all that, Albee's love affair is sadly one-sided….
But there is a much more profound insensitivity to language at work here, and the more painful since Albee (as he did in Tiny Alice) has one of his characters apologize for his alleged articulateness. But Albee's...
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Edward Albee's All Over is about the dying of some unnamed and unclassified great man behind a screen in his living room, while in front of the screen his wife, mistress, son, daughter, lawyer, doctor and nurse talk, wrangle, and have an occasional tantrum. The play is so eventless, point-less, and, above all, lifeless that it could actually have been improved by being turned around on its axis. Then, at least, we could have witnessed some hemorrhages, bladder discharges, oscultations, injections, perhaps a death rattle—none of them my idea of drama, but all positively enlivening compared to what we do get.
The anonymous characters this side of the screen, i.e., the supposedly living, have, with the possible exception of the mistress, no more personality than they have names. (pp. 323-24)
The play, I repeat, is about nothing. There is no plot, no problem, no conflict, no character. The dramatis personae are a set of attitudes, and their talk is made up mostly of digressions: about parents and grandparents, gardens and travels, dreams and childhood recollections. And when one of these humanoid nebulae launches on yet another irrelevant reminiscence of an even hazier ancestor, it is like watching a gas being superseded by a vacuum. That leaves language. But language (as opposed to snide or lacerating repartee) is what Albee has always been deficient in—and I don't mean anything as simple as incorrect usage,...
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Few playwrights can have been so frequently and mischievously misunderstood, misrepresented, overpraised, denigrated, and precipitately dismissed [as Edward Albee]. Canonized after the performance of his first play, The Zoo Story [produced Off-Broadway], he found himself in swift succession billed as America's most promising playwright, leading dramatist, and then, with astonishing suddenness, a "one-hit" writer with nothing to his credit but an ersatz masterpiece patched together from the achievements of other writers. The progression was essentially that suggested by George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, "better, best, bested." (p. 1)
To read the bulk of criticism that Albee's work has inspired is to discover the depths to which abstruse pedantry and the Ph.D. industry can go. And, worse still, a number of sizable red-herrings have been dragged across the path of audience and reader alike by those who wish to see his work as an expression of a particular dramatic movement or pathological condition. (p. 2)
There is no doubt that the Broadway production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? provided the basis for Albee's amazing popular reputation; less obviously, but equally certainly, it was also the primary reason for the suspicion with which some reviewers and critics approached his work. For there was a sense in which the move to Broadway seemed a betrayal of the nascent values of...
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Rachel Blau Duplessis
Albee transforms social "problems" for which no solution is offered into sexual and family strife, problems for which he has readily available solutions….
Two prominent problems resolved by the ending of Virginia Woolf concern the bitch goddess, who is tamed, and the non-existent child, who is "killed." Martha is a brilliantly constructed and dramatically sufficient portrait of the stereotypical emasculating woman. The missing male child is doubly non-existent, for he is first imaginary and at the end of the play he is also dead. It is no secret that parent-child and husband-wife relationships figure importantly in Albee's world, although Albee is squeamish about recognizing this. In fact, many relationships in his plays that do not specifically conform to family models can be assimilated to them. (p. 134)
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf ends with a now familiar tableau of an American first family and an Albeean primal family, a tableau which reveals Martha's essential insecurity and dependence on George, and George's control and dominance of their relationship and her needs. The problems in the play are the failure of the man and the bitchiness of the woman. The problems—henpecked man, nagging wife—are constructed in stereotypes; the solutions too are envisaged in stereotypes, when George is shown to be basically stronger, smarter and more resiliant than the promiscuous and pugnacious Martha....
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