Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Edward Albee R.I.P.

Edward Albee, the award winning playwright who wrote Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), died on September 16 2016. He was 88 years old.

Edward Albee was born in Virginia. His mother's name was Louise Harvey; who gave him the name "Edward". Almost nothing is known of his father, who apparently deserted mother and child. He was only a few weeks old when he was put up for adoption. He was placed with Reed A. Albee, son of  a vaudeville impresario Edward Franklin Albee II, and his wife. They formally adopted him ten months later.

Edward Albee attended a number of different schools, including  Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York; the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey; Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pennsylvania; and the Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut. He attended  Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut for a time before being expelled. He then moved to Greenwich Village.

Edward Albee's first play, The Zoo Story, was rejected by producers in New York City, so it premiered in West Berlin at the Schiller Theater Werkstatt in September 1959. It was on a double bill with Krapp's Last Tape by Samuel Beckett. Its premiere in the United States was in January 1960 as an Off-Broadway production at the Provincetown Playhouse. It won the 1960 Obie Award for Distinguished Play and Distinguished Performance, William Daniels.

It was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that marked Mr. Albee's debut on Broadway. It premiered at the Billy Rose Theatre on October 13 1962. It won the Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Actor (for Arthur Hill), Best Actress (for Uta Hagen), Best Direction of a Play (for Alan Schneider), and 1963 Best Producer of a Play (for Richard Barr and Clinton Wilder). It also won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. Despite winning awards, it was controversial for its language and overt sexuality, two things that would cause problems when it was adapted as a film (1966's Who's Afraid of Virginian Woolf?).

Edward Albee's next play, The Ballad of the Sad Café, received several Tony nominations, but won no awards. The same held true for his play Tiny Alice. His play A Delicate Balance won the 1967 Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Play for Marian Seldes and the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Following the height of Mr.Albee's career in the Sixties there would be several between awards for his plays. His 1975 play Seascape won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, as did his 1991 play Three Tall Women. His 2002 play The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? won the Tony Award for Best Play, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Edward Albee won a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2005 and then  Drama Desk Award Special Award in 2008.

Edward Albee was one of the most talented playwrights of the late 20th Century. His characters were always fully developed, to the point that they seemed like real people. What is more, they were not always pleasant. Indeed, for Edward Albee, relationships in the modern United States were often contentious and existed in a constant state of denial. Edward Albee's characters often led lives of quiet desperation. While Edward Albee's characters were not always pleasant, and his plays in many ways very dark, at the same time they rang of a certain truth. Certainly everyone in modern day North America is not self deluded and self absorbed the way many of Mr. Albee's characters were, but there enough for those characters to seem all too familiar.

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