Discussion Topics

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What does Edward Albee mean when he writes in The Zoo Story, “sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly”?

How has Albee’s concept of civility in marriage evolved from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to ...

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What does Edward Albee mean when he writes in The Zoo Story, “sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly”?

How has Albee’s concept of civility in marriage evolved from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Homelife?

Is physical violence, either expressed or inferred, a necessary component of Albee’s work?

Albee’s assessment is that his plays are usually stylistically different from one another. What do you think?

Critics have seen homosexual echoes/images in all of Albee’s plays. Do you agree?

The statement has been made that Albee is obsessed with death and that it is a running character in his plays. What is your opinion?

Other Literary Forms

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Although Edward Albee has written the libretto for an unsuccessful operatic version of Herman Melville’s story “Bartleby the Scrivener,” as well as some occasional essays and a few adaptations, he is known primarily for his plays. Albee’s unpublished works include a short story and at least one novel written while he was a teenager. Esquire published the first chapter of a novel he began writing in 1963 but never completed.

Achievements

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Edward Albee is, with David Mamet, Sam Shepard, and August Wilson, one of the few American playwrights to emerge since the 1950’s with any claim to being considered a major dramatist ranked among the pantheon of Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams. Since The Zoo Story first appeared, Albee has produced a sustained and varied body of work, often of considerably higher quality than his critical and popular reputation would suggest. In the introduction to his most experimental works, the two one-acts published together in Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, Albee sets forth the two “obligations” of a playwright: to illuminate the human condition and to make some statement about the art form itself by altering “the forms within which his precursors have had to work.” Like O’Neill before him, Albee has always been an experimentalist, refusing to go back and repeat the earlier formulas simply because they have proved commercially and critically successful. Although acutely disturbed by the downward spiral and paralysis of will that seem to have overtaken modern civilization and committed to charting these in his work, Albee is not primarily a social playwright, and there is hardly one of his plays that is totally naturalistic or realistic. In form and style, they range, indeed, from surrealism (The Sandbox) to allegory (Tiny Alice), from the quasi-religious drawing-room play (A Delicate Balance) to the fable (Seascape), from the picaresque journey (Malcolm) to the ritual deathwatch (both All Over and The Lady from Dubuque), from scenes linked by cinematic techniques (The Death of Bessie Smith) to monodrama for a disembodied voice (Box), and from traditional memory play (Three Tall Women) to postmodern burlesque (The Play About the Baby).

Albee has received numerous awards and honors, including two Obie Awards, one in 1959-1960 for The Zoo Story and a second in 1993-1994 for sustained achievement, and two Tony Awards for best play, for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1963 and for The Goat: Or, Who Is Sylvia? in 2002. He was awarded three Pulitzer Prizes in Drama, for A Delicate Balance in 1967, Seascape in 1975, and Three Tall Women in 1994. The New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play was given to three of Albee’s dramas: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1963), Three Tall Women (1994), and The Goat (2002). Other honors include the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award (1996) and the National Medal of Arts (1997).

Bibliography

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Amacher, Richard E. Edward Albee. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Taking Albee’s career through The Man Who Had Three Arms, this study is part biography, part script analysis, and part career assessment. Amacher is best at discussing Albee’s “place in the theatre” and his marriage of the well-made play form with the formless Theater of the Absurd. Good second opinion after C. W. E. Bigsby’s edition of essays in 1975. Chronology, notes, bibliography.

Bigsby, C. W. E., ed. Edward Albee: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1975. This collection includes notable names in theater and scholarship, such as Gerald Weales, Martin Esslin, Richard Schechner, Alan Schneider, Harold Clurman, Philip Roth, and Robert Brustein. They contribute several interpretations of the symbolic aspect of Albee’s plays, usually, but not always, in single-play discussions.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Edward Albee. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2001.

Bottoms, Stephen J. Albee: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. A thorough study of Albee’s best-known play.

Bottoms, Stephen J. The Cambridge Companion to Edward Albee. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. A comprehensive survey of Albee’s works, presented through easy-to-read essays. Recommended for new readers of Albee, as well as scholars of his work.

Bryer, Jackson R. “Edward Albee.” In The Playwright’s Art: Conversations with Contemporary American Dramatists. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995. Interview conducted in 1991 that discusses most of Albee’s major plays at the time, both successes and failures. Albee reveals himself as clever and articulate as the characters in his plays, and he makes pointed statements about the Broadway establishment and its impact on playwriting in America.

Gussow, Mel. Edward Albee: A Singular Journey. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. A comprehensive biocritical study of the playwright by a leading cultural critic of The New York Times, whose association with Albee extends back to 1962. Written with Albee’s cooperation and input, it discusses all of his plays in the context of his life and his beliefs as an artist. With photos, bibliography, and index.

“Edward Albee.” In Playwrights at Work. New York: Modern Library, 2000. Although this interview appeared in the Paris Review in 1966, when Albee had taken several critical hits in the wake of his success with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, it captures him in the full flush of his “angry young man” interval and records observations on the art and craft of playwriting that continue to inform his work.

Kolin, Philip C., and J. Madison Davis, eds. Critical Essays on Edward Albee. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986. This collection of original reviews (from The Zoo Story to Counting the Ways), general criticism, and an overview of Albee’s importance to world theater is comprehensive and thorough, with some thirty-seven articles, as well as an annotated bibliography of Albee interviews (with its own index).

McCarthy, Gerry. Edward Albee. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987. Stronger than other studies on Albee’s theater sense, as opposed to his plays as dramatic literature, this brief but informative overview puts the work in a dynamic, action-and-reaction-oriented structural perspective. Some production stills, index, and brief bibliography.

Mann, Bruce J. Edward Albee: A Casebook. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Nayar, Rana. Edward Albee: Towards a Typology of Relationships. New Delhi, India: Prestige Books, 2003.

Plimpton, George, ed. “Edward Albee.” In Playwrights at Work. New York: Modern Library, 2000. Although this interview appeared in the Paris Review in 1966, when Albee had taken several critical hits in the wake of his success with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, it captures him in the full flush of his “angry young man” interval and records observations on the art and craft of playwriting that continue to inform his work.

Roudané, Matthew. Understanding Edward Albee. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1987. Organized chronologically, and pairing the plays in each chapter (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? gets its own), this study focuses on Albee’s plays in a “culture seeking to locate its identity through the ritualized action implicit in the art of theater.” Bibliography and index.

Roudané, Matthew. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”: Necessary Fictions, Terrifying Realities. Boston: Twayne, 1990. A close study of Albee’s landmark drama, by one of Albee’s most perceptive critics. A follow-up to the author’s Understanding Edward Albee, with particular emphasis on the function and purpose of illusion in Albee’s dramas.

Wasserman, Julian, ed. Edward Albee: An Interview and Essays. Houston: University of St. Thomas, 1983. This 1981 interview, on translations, audiences, and similar earthly subjects, has a show-biz tone to it, without much of the transcendental abstractions of later interviews. A good place to start a study of Albee because he articulates his intentions here with some clarity and grace. Wasserman contributes an essay on language; seven other authors offer single-play discussions, not including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? but including The Lady from Dubuque, Seascape, and Counting the Ways.

Zinman, Toby. Edward Albee. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2008. This book provides a chronological examination of Albee’s works, tracing his themes of relationships, death, and the passage of time. An essential guide for anyone interested in Albee’s plays.

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