Edward Albee

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Post by Rachid Amri on Sat Mar 08, 2008 3:06 pm

April 10, 1994

Edward Albee Salutes a Great Vaudevillian
ugene Ionesco influenced several generations of playwrights before his death on March 28 in Paris at the age of 84. In this essay, Edward Albee remembers how Ionesco entered his life and helped shape his artistic vision.

WHILE I WASN'T EXACTLY born in a trunk -- well, I may have been, for I never knew my natural parents, their habits -- my adopting family was involved with vaudeville. They were not jugglers or comedians -- more's the pity -- but owner-management, the Keith Albee Vaudeville Circuit.

The house I tried to grow up in was frequented by performers, and the likes of Ed Wynn and Victor Moore dandled me when I was a tot. My family had me go to the theater when I was a little boy, and my first theatrical memory is of "Jumbo," at the old Hippodrome -- Jimmy Durante and an elephant, great Rodgers and Hart songs, and a toy they hawked in the auditorium to kids like me, a Krazy Kat-like flexible figure on a hand-held board, manipulated from beneath by rings on strings. Doubtless I enjoyed the songs, the elephant and Durante; I know I loved the toy.

Time passed. I moved through my bewildered adolescence and into my chaotic 20's, accumulating theater experiences on the way. (I was lucky: I lived in New York.)

When I was 14 -- and subjected to military school for my sins -- I found Shakespeare, and reasoned that the problem was the language; maybe a rewriting, a simplification, would allow us to follow the plots better. I abandoned this theory when I left military school. Later, I experienced Chekhov, Pirandello, Ibsen -- feeling no need to rewrite them.

Chance and good fortune took me to the premieres of "The Iceman Cometh" and "The Skin of Our Teeth" and "The Glass Menagerie." I was still writing not very good poetry then but had given up on the novel as too much work. I had not yet realized that with the short story -- at least in my case -- practice does not make perfect, and, in drama, the three-act sex farce I had composed at 13 had not led me to further attempts at writing plays.

But what an exciting time we all had in New York City in the late 40's and 50's -- those of us who lived in and with the arts: the concerts of avant-garde music at McMillan Theater at Columbia University, the exhibits of Constructivist and Abstract Expressionist paintings at the galleries, the explosion of foreign authors in translation -- Sartre, Camus, the Nouvelle Vague, the Italian Realists Berto, Verga, Moravia, and on and on.

And in the theater in the 1950's there occurred a series of events that changed the rules of playwriting -- the premieres in America of plays by that great vaudeville act, Beckett, Ionesco and Genet.

So profound was the effect of these playwrights that the term Theater of the Absurd was invented to encompass (and isolate, alas) their accomplishment, although Ionesco was the only one of the three for whom the term was valid.

The reactionaries were appalled, the audience for conventional plays was bewildered, and an entire generation of us suddenly decided to be playwrights, liberated by these three. The exuberance, the daring, the sleight-of-hand, the deepest laughter in the deepest dark broke all the rules for us and showed us that the familiar, the safe, the predictable was the true Theater of the Absurd.

If we can tie Beckett to the Existentialists and Genet to a kind of solitary confinement of the spirit, then we must relate Ionesco to Dadaism and Surrealism -- movements not a part of mainstream American culture. Ionesco's preoccupation with the collapse of language, as well as such matters as major characters who never appear, furniture (and corpses) growing as the drama proceeds, and people becoming rhinoceroses before our (very) eyes, influenced a lot of us.

AS PINTER'S DEBT TO BECKETT can be found in much of his work, my own stylistic sources for "The American Dream" and "The Sandbox" are clearly to be found in Ionesco. (Indeed, the first several pages of "The American Dream" were so obviously an intended homage to the Romanian-French master that I was startled when some critics insisted it was imitation -- an Ionesco-like situation?)

We would diminish Ionesco, however, were we to suggest he was little more than a bag of tricks. His concerns with individual freedom, identity and rationalism place him higher than that. He was a major force in shaping nontraditional drama in the second half of the 20th century.

Beckett has gone on to be an acknowledged master, albeit almost buried by the scholars; Genet is still sniffed suspiciously by the wary, who are profoundly frightened by the primal violence of his vision, and Ionesco -- the most playful of the three, the most purely "experimental," though every bit as reality grounded and tough as the others -- has been neglected.

There's no point in dwelling on this. A hundred years down the line -- unless the viruses have taken over -- we'll see it all sort itself out.

And now Ionesco can write no longer; he has joined the others. As a character I like says, in a play I admire, "That particular vaudeville act is playing the cloud circuit now."

What an act it was, and what a hard act to follow!

Rachid Amri

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Edward Albee Empty Re: Edward Albee

Post by Iibtihel on Sat Mar 08, 2008 5:48 pm

Biography of Edward Albee (1928-)

Edward Albee

Edward Albee was born in Washington, DC on March 12, 1928. When he was two weeks old, baby Edward was adopted by millionaire couple Reed and Frances Albee. The Albees named their son after his paternal grandfather, Edward Franklin Albee, a powerful Vaudeville producer who had made the family fortune as a partner in the Keith-Albee Theater Circuit.

Young Edward was raised by his adoptive parents in Westchester, New York. Because of his father's and grandfather's involvement in the theatre business, Edward was exposed to theatre and well-known Vaudeville personalities throughout his childhood.

From early on, Edward's mother Frances tried to groom her son to be a respectable member of New York society. The Albees' affluence meant that Edward's childhood was filled with servants and tutors. The family Rolls Royce took him to afternoon matinees, he took riding lessons, vacationed in Miami in the winter, and learned to sail on Long Island Sound in the summer.

In 1940, twelve-year-old Edward entered the Lawrenceville School, a prestigious boys' preparatory school. During his high school days, he shocked school officials by writing a three-act sex farce entitled Aliqueen. At the age of fifteen, the Lawrenceville School dismissed Edward for cutting classes. Hoping to inspire some discipline in his wayward son, Reed Albee enrolled Edward at the Valley Forge Military Academy. Within a year, Valley Forge had dismissed Edward as well.

Ultimately, Edward attended Choate from 1944 to 1946. Even as a teenager, Edward was a prolific writer. In 1945, his poem "Eighteen" was published in the Texas literary magazine Kaleidoscope. His senior year at Choate, Edward's first published play Schism appeared in the school literary magazine.

After graduating from Choate, Edward enrolled at Trinity College, a small liberal arts school in Hartford, Connecticut. While there Edward irked his mother by associating with artists and intellectuals whom she found objectionable. During his days at Trinity College, Edward gained a modicum of theatre experience - although it was onstage, as an actor, rather than as a writer. During his sophomore year, in 1947, nineteen-year-old Edward was dismissed from yet another school. This time, Trinity College claimed that he had failed to attend Chapel and certain classes.

Despite his mother's objections, Edward moved to New York City's artsy Greenwich Village at the age of twenty. He supported himself by writing music programming for WNYC radio. In 1953, young Albee met playwright Thornton Wilder. Later, he credited Wilder with inspiring him to become a playwright - advice he did not follow for a few more years. Over the next decade, Albee lived on the proceeds of his grandmother's trust fund and held jobs as an office boy, record salesman, and Western Union messenger.

In 1958, Albee wrote his first major play, a one-act entitled The Zoo Story. When no New York producer would agree to stage it, Albee sent the play to an old friend in New York. The play was first produced in Berlin. After its success abroad, American theatre producer Alan Schneider agreed to produce The Zoo Story off-Broadway in a double bill with Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape. This early association with Beckett served to cement Albee's connection to the Theatre of the Absurd. In fact, The Zoo Story was at the time of its production hailed as the birth of American absurdist drama.

Immediately, Albee became perceived as a leader of a new theatrical movement in America. His success was in part predicated on his ability to straddle the two divergent traditions of American theatre - the traditional and the avant garde, combining the realistic with the surreal . Thus, critics of Albee can rightfully see him as a successor to American playwrights Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O'Neill while at the same time unmistakably influenced by European playwrights like Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. Albee has also called Ring Lardner, James Thurber, and Jean Genet important influences on his writing.

Throughout the following years, Albee strengthened his reputation with a series of one-act plays, including The Death of Bessie Smith and The Sandbox, which he dedicated to his beloved grandmother, in 1960. In 1961, The American Dream dealt with themes that would be drawn upon in Albee's later career. That same year, Albee adapted an unsuccessful production of Melville's short story Bartleby with his friend William Flanagan.

Despite the success of his original work, Albee's adaptations - Carson McCuller's The Ballad of the Sad Cafe in 1963 and James Purdy's Malcolm in 1965 - have not been critically or popularly successful. Critics described them as being static representations of literary works, simply transplanting existing scenes from the books to the stage.

Albee's real successes have always come from his original and absurdist dramas. His first three-act drama and the play for which he is best known, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, was produced in New York in 1962. Immediately it became popular and controversial. When its nomination for a Pulitzer was not accepted unanimously by the prize committee, two members of the Pulitzer Prize committee resigned. Nonetheless, the play received the Tony Award and New York Drama Critics Circle Award.

After the failed McCullers adaptation in 1963, Albee's original drama, a dream play called Tiny Alice, opened in New York. That same year, Albee joined with two friends in creating an absurdist group called "Theater 1964," which produced, among other things, Beckett's Play and Pinter's The Lover at Cherry Lane Theatre. After Malcolm closed after only five days, Albee rebounded with the success of A Delicate Balance in 1966. For this play, he received the Pulitzer Prize.

Albee continued to write plays throughout the 1960's and 1970's. Everything in the Garden, adapted from a play by Giles Cooper, was produced in 1967, followed by the original plays Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung in 1968, All Over in 1971, and Seascape in 1975. For Seascape, Albee was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize. Counting the Ways and Listening which initially debuted as a radio play in England was staged in New York in 1977.

Throughout the 1980's, Albee's playwriting career failed to produce a substantial commercial hit. Plays from this period include The Lady from Dubuque (1980), an adaptation of Lolita (1981), The Man Who Had Three Arms (1983), Finding the Sun (1985), and Marriage Play (1987). During this time, Albee also taught courses at various universities and maintained his residence in New York.

In 1994, Albee experienced a much-awaited success with the play Three Tall Women. That play earned Albee his third Pulitzer Prize and his first commercial hit in over a decade. Three Tall Women also won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award. Albee's most recent productions have been Lorca Play in 1993 and Fragments: A Concerto Grosso in 1995.

Edward Albee is a member of the Dramatists Guild Council and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches courses in playwriting every spring at the University of Houston, the venue where Lorca Play was initially staged. Albee himself sums up his career thus: "I have been both overpraised and underpraised. I assume by the time I finish writing - and I plan to go on writing until I'm ninety or gaga - it will all equal itself out. You can't involve yourself with the vicissitudes of fashion or critical response."

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