Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who is Edward Albee?

There is, what I consider, a pretty good interview in Vice with Edward Albee. Reading it and not fully knowing who he is (and still obviously not really knowing), I still pulled some good nuggets out of it; it was a good read.

But, I thought it might be interesting to get to know him a bit beyond Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward F. Albee was born in Virginia on March 12th 1928, adopted by Reed and Frances Albee. His father was part owner of the Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit.* Edward was raised in luxury, in the family's Larchmont mansion, also occupied by Mrs. Albee's mother to whom he became very attached. Grandma Cotter, to whom he dedicated his 1960 play The Sandbox, left him a trust fund that enabled him to strike out on his own.

*The origin of the term "vaudeville" is obscure, but is often explained as being derived from the expression voix de ville, or "voice of the city." Another plausible etymology finds origins in the French Vau de Vire, a valley in Normandy noted for its style of satirical songs with topical themes. The term vaudeville, referring specifically to North American variety entertainment, came into common usage after 1871 with the formation of Sargent's Great Vaudeville Company of Louisville, Kentucky. It had little, if anything, to do with the Com├ędie en vaudeville of the French theatre.

In May 1928, a controlling portion of stock Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit was sold to Joseph P. Kennedy (President Kennedy's father) from whom it was purchased in October by the (RCA) as part of the deal that created the Radio Corporation of Americamajor motion picture studio Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO Radio Pictures). After the establishment of RKO, motion pictures became the primary focus of entertainment at the former KAO theaters. Vaudeville survived only as an interlude for feature films.

Albee's first job was writing continuity dialogue for radio station WNYC. After leaving his parents' home to settle in Greenwich Village he spend years holding a variety of jobs -- including three years as a Western Union messenger. They supplemented his trust and were chosen because they were dead ends and would not interfere with his primary vocation: writing.

On his thirtieth birthday in 1958, he quit his job with Western Union and wrote The Zoo Story* in three weeks. Albee's first and major "hit" was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which opened at Broadway's Billy Rose Theater on October 3, 1963, starring Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill as the battling George and Martha. It ran for 664 performances and was made into a popular film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (download movie torrent here). Albee nabbed three Pulitzers, for A Delicate Balance in 1966, Seascape in 1975 and Three Tall Women in 1991. This last seemed to restore his popularity with New York critics and audiences who had been treating him like the unwelcome guests in plays like A Delicate Balance.
Trademarks Of Albee's Plays
Albee can be classified with theatrical experimenters whose work jumped the boundaries of American drama. His style embraces existentialism, abusurdism as well as the metaphysical. His plays tend to puzzle. While not easy "night out" fare they are also full of satirically witty and sharp dialogue. The Albee audience consists of those who value being challenged and appreciate theater that, if it existed, would fit into the School of Anti-Complacency. His failures at the box office are as well known as his critical successes. As described by the playwright himself his plays are" an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, and emasculation and vacuity, a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen."

Anyway, read the short interview with him here. Nothing profound, just curious. Basically, it's always good, I think, to listen to old interesting people when they talk about their lives.



*The Zoo Story: I fully realize this wikipedia summary below is both a crude and silly way to go about things, but what the hell; I wanted to understand the following cartoon.

This one-act play concerns two characters, Peter and Jerry. Peter is a middle-class publishing executive with a wife, two daughters, two cats and two parakeets who lives in ignorance of the world outside his settled life. Jerry is an isolated and disheartened man who lives in a boarding house and is very troubled. These men meet on a park bench in New York City's Central Park. Jerry is desperate to have a meaningful conversation with another human being. He intrudes on Peter’s peaceful state by interrogating him and forcing him to listen to stories from his life, including "THE STORY OF JERRY AND THE DOG", and the reason behind his visit to the zoo. The action is linear, unfolding in front of the audience in “real time”. The elements of ironic humor and unrelenting dramatic suspense are brought to a climax when Jerry brings his victim down to his own savage level.

The catalyst for the shocking ending transpires when Peter announces, "I really must be going home;..." Jerry, in response, begins to tickle Peter. Peter giggles, laughs and agrees to listen to Jerry finish telling "what happened at the zoo." At the same time Jerry begins pushing Peter off the bench. Peter decides to fight for his territory on the bench and becomes angry. Unexpectedly, Jerry pulls a knife on Peter, and then drops it as initiative for Peter to grab. When Peter holds the knife defensively, Jerry charges him and impales himself on the knife. Bleeding on the park bench, Jerry finishes his zoo story by bringing it into the immediate present, "Could I have planned all this. No... no, I couldn't have. But I think I did." Horrified, Peter runs away from Jerry whose dying words, "", are a combination of scornful mimicry and supplication.

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