September 17, 2016

"Edward Albee, widely considered the foremost American playwright of his generation, whose psychologically astute and piercing dramas explored the contentiousness of intimacy..."

"... the gap between self-delusion and truth and the roiling desperation beneath the facade of contemporary life, died Friday at his home in Montauk, N.Y. He was 88...."
He introduced himself suddenly and with a bang, in 1959, when his first produced play, “The Zoo Story,” opened in Berlin on a double bill with Samuel Beckett’s “Krapp’s Last Tape.” A two-handed one-act that unfolds in real time, “The Zoo Story” zeroed in on the existential terror at the heart of Eisenhower-era complacency, presenting the increasingly menacing intrusion of a probing, querying stranger on a man reading on a Central Park bench....

“Albee is not a fan of mankind,” the critic John Lahr wrote in The New Yorker in 2012. “The friendships he stages are loose affiliations that serve mostly as a bulwark against meaninglessness.”
From a nice, long obituary in The New York Times.

I've only written the name Edward Albee once in the 12 years of this blog. It was in the context of an interview that Alec Baldwin did with Elaine Stritch. Stritch had "described having 'an orgasm for the first time in my life' on stage in a very emotional moment of Edward Albee's play 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' ("'You know, that big scene? "Our son," he yells in my face, "is dead." And I went "No!" At the height of my force, I said no to him.')" And Alec Baldwin said to her: "Honey, I just think it speaks volumes about you, about what a real creature of the theater you are that the only time that you ever had an orgasm was saying the words of a homosexual man. It was as far from a heterosexual orgasm as you could possibly get."

I guess I never wrote about it, but we did go out to see an Edward Albee play in 2014 at The American Players Theater. It was "Seascape," the one with talking lizards...



... a male-and-female couple of lizards encountering male-and-female married humans.

43 comments:

MayBee said...

Blessings to his family, but I hate "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf".
It's just all that 1960's angst that felt dreadful when I was growing up. Who would choose that for entertainment?

Sydney said...

The obituary references this review of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" - "Three and a half hours long, four characters wide and a cesspool deep." I feel that way about all of his plays. They give me headaches. I was not surprised to read in the obituary that he struggled with alcoholism. For some reason, writing by alcoholics gives me headaches, nearly all the time. I hope he managed to find some happiness in his life. The obituary reads like one of his plays.

madAsHell said...

... the gap between self-delusion and truth and the roiling desperation beneath the facade of contemporary life, died Friday

And then some hack wrote this obituary.

David Begley said...

Did Althouse or Meade like "Seascape?"

wild chicken said...

Drama was so dreadful then. All that repressed homosexuality and impotency and frigidity. And really they all just drank and smoked too much.

Ann Althouse said...

"Did Althouse or Meade like "Seascape?""

Some mixed opinion. The actors that played the lizards really did a great job of inhabiting the lizards. The human characters... I would have done them in a way that brought more comedy into the differences between the man and the woman. The woman is this full-of-life type character who I don't think should be presented as wise or having the better position vis-a-vis the man. I think a full-of-life older woman can be perfectly ridiculous, and I would have taken it in that direction. The man is an old fart who can't enjoy life, but he can be wrong and right too. I think it's a romantic movie cliche to have a woman who enlivens a depressed man and shows him the meaning of life. I don't care to see that in a play. I think the 2 humans should be locked in a ridiculous struggle that's really funny and deep to us... before the lizards arrive. I don't want to sit there thinking: When are the lizards going to show up? I came here because I heard there would be lizards. Bring in the lizards because these people are boring me and I don't think the little lady is charming or delightful, not while I'm sitting here in the theater. I shouldn't be thinking lizards are needed!

That's what I remember from 2 years ago. I could have distorted that by now.

Roughcoat said...

wild chicken:

Good one. Agree entirely.

EDH said...

Black Lizards Matter?

William said...

I saw the snippet. I'm in no big hurry to see the entire play......I did see the Virginia Wolfe movie. It was entertaining. It will probably endure for a while because it gives actors a chance to show off their skills, but it doesn't illuminate any problem I've ever faced on this earth.

pst314 said...

"...'The Zoo Story' zeroed in on the existential terror at the heart of Eisenhower-era complacency..."
It has been joked that teenagers all think sex did not exist before they discovered it.
Did Albee think that loneliness and insanity did not exist before 1950's America?

mockturtle said...

I did enjoy the movie version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe because it was an entertaining romp in which Taylor & Burton could portray themselves. It had some good lines, too. But, yeah, the 60's were filled with these dark, dysphoric dramas. Like all those 60's Brit flicks, e.g., Room at the Top. And the films haven't really aged well.

mockturtle said...

BTW, how did Stritch know she had an orgasm onstage if she'd never had one before?

Ann Althouse said...

Mockturtle, that's a funny question.

Are you suggesting that women only know they are having an orgasm because it happens while they are engaged in some noticeably sexual behavior?

mockturtle said...

Well, yes. Are you proposing otherwise?

Roughcoat said...

Well ... in my admittedly limited experience, and entirely on observational and/or anecdotal evidence, mind you ... women know when they're having an orgasm.

Men always know when they're having an orgasm; why wouldn't women?

Pray, enlighten me.

Roughcoat said...

"and based entirely"

mockturtle said...

Orgasms don't just happen.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Well, I think it's nice to know that Edward Albee cured Elaine Stritch's frigidity. Did she find other equally exciting playwrights or did she learn to have effective sex with men?

mockturtle said...

My point was this: You need a point of reference. Let us assume that most first orgasms occur with masturbation. You learn what an orgasm feels like. This woman, supposedly, while acting onstage, experienced a violently ecstatic sensation as she delivered her lines? I say, bullshit. But, any any rate, if she had never experienced the sensation before, how did she know that's what it was? And how did she maintain her onstage poise during this experience?

Roughcoat said...

Maybe she faked it. Wouldn't be the first time.

rcocean said...

"When are the lizards going to show up? I came here because I heard there would be lizards. Bring in the lizards because these people are boring me and I don't think the little lady is charming or delightful, not while I'm sitting here in the theater. I shouldn't be thinking lizards are needed!"

haha. Yeah, bring on the talking lizards.

Editor: Some good stuff Albee, but it gets boring in the middle
Albee: What about some talking lizards?
Editor: That's the thing.

rcocean said...

I wrote this somewhere else, but I was astounded at the big write-up for Albee. The man was born in 1928, and all the plays that were any good, were written over 50 years ago.

He may have continued to wow the Broadway critics, but "Who's Afraid of V.W" the movie, was the last thing the American public cared about.

Robert Cook said...

A handful of years ago, maybe four or five, I was on the update 1 train heading home one evening. I noticed that the man sitting directly across from me was Edward Albee. He looked old and frail.

The other legendary American playwright I have seen in passing in NY is Arthur Miller, who I saw in mid-town, near Radio City Music Hall, more than a handful of years ago.

Robert Cook said...

"I wrote this somewhere else, but I was astounded at the big write-up for Albee. The man was born in 1928, and all the plays that were any good, were written over 50 years ago."

Are you a theater maven? A student of Albee's work? How do you know "all the plays that were any good, were written over 50 years ago?" He won awards later in his career. You concede "he may have continued to wow the Broadway critics," but you minimize his critical reputation by asserting that the American public cared about nothing he wrote after "Virginia Woolf." Is this the standard for literary or dramatic excellence...that the American public cares about it? If you hadn't noticed, the American public is increasingly uninterested in literature and the dramatic arts, and care only for flash and spectacle.

I've never read or seen any of Albee's plays, so I don't comment as a partisan for his work. I'm just puzzled at the snide glibness with which so many are so quick to dismiss the life's work of others.

rcocean said...

"Is this the standard for literary or dramatic excellence...that the American public cares about it? If you hadn't noticed, the American public is increasingly uninterested in literature and the dramatic arts, and care only for flash and spectacle."

Doubtful. I sincerely doubt that Albee or that Broadway's dramatists from 1965-current year, have been churning out great plays equivalent to the best of T. Williams, O'Neill, Wilder, and Inge and we (the American public) haven't liked them because they lacked "flash and spectacle".

That someone continues to churn out plays or novels after his/her hit play or best selling novel without any broad popular appeal usually means one thing - they aren't very good.

rcocean said...

Plus, I'm always amazed at how sensitive people are when you criticize some playwright, novelist, director they like. They almost take it personally. Albee got plenty of praise and large sums of $$$ for writing his plays, but you think we shouldn't criticize because what? We couldn't do any better? Artists are above criticism?

Albee, like most artists, wasn't some shrinking violet, trying to please his close friends by dashing off a play or two for their private enjoyment. He put himself out in the public arena because he wanted vast numbers of people to watch his plays, talk about them, and make $$$.

mockturtle said...

Tennessee Williams was, IMO, our best playwright and his plays have lasting quality. Eugene O'Neill was also brilliant but his Long Day's Journey Into Night was probably his only really great play. Just my opinion, of course. ;-)

Robert Cook said...

"That someone continues to churn out plays or novels after his/her hit play or best selling novel without any broad popular appeal usually means one thing - they aren't very good."

A baseless and foolish assertion.

"Plus, I'm always amazed at how sensitive people are when you criticize some playwright, novelist, director they like. They almost take it personally. Albee got plenty of praise and large sums of $$$ for writing his plays, but you think we shouldn't criticize because what? We couldn't do any better? Artists are above criticism.?"

Of source artitsrs aren't above criticism, but the comment I responded to wasn't criticism. It was a snide and sophomoric dismissal without offering any actual criticism of Albee's work. The dismissal was based entirely on an assertion of a lack of widespread interest in Albee' s plays for 50 years. Well, Americans in general don't pay attention to plays, so that's an observation that means nothing as criticism.

rcocean said...

"Tennessee Williams was, IMO, our best playwright and his plays have lasting quality. Eugene O'Neill was also brilliant but his Long Day's Journey Into Night was probably his only really great play. Just my opinion, of course. ;-)"

Mock Turtle, everything is just our "opinion" ;-)

I enjoyed "The Iceman cometh" and "Ah, Wilderness" as much as "LDJIN". I think T. Williams had more talent than O'Neill, but had to work in a different age. I like "Streetcar" and "Glass menagerie" the best. I've never seen "Cat" in person, but read the play and think it inferior to the movie - which I liked a lot. More sophisticated types believe the play far superior to the movie.

Jupiter said...

Robert Cook said...

"I've never read or seen any of Albee's plays, so I don't comment as a partisan for his work. I'm just puzzled at the snide glibness with which so many are so quick to dismiss the life's work of others."

I've never read or seen any of them either. Yet I am quite confident that they are utter dreck, boring, disgusting and offensive by turns. Why is that? I guess it's the effect of the company they keep. After a while, you come to understand that the usual suspects can be counted upon to round each other up and say nice things about each other. And they are all a pack of insufferable thieves, liars and perverts. They are why we can't have nice things.

mtrobertslaw said...

Within the next ten or twenty years, Albee will be tossed into the self-absorbers Basket. In 100 or 200 years, the plays of Sophocles, Aristophanes and Shakespeare will still be performed. As for Albee, who was he?

mockturtle said...

rcocean said: I've never seen "Cat" in person, but read the play and think it inferior to the movie - which I liked a lot.

Burl Ives was nothing short of magnificent as Big Daddy. And it was well cast all-around. Excellent film.

I've never seen any of O'Neill plays in person. Maybe LDJIN is my favorite because my favorite actor, Ralph Richardson, played James Tyrone in the film version.

Bad Lieutenant said...


A baseless and foolish assertion.

Cook, please consult a dictionary for the definition of "irony." Others would refute with evidence or analysis, such as a counterexample, a good play that is neglected perhaps, but you retort to "a baseless and foolish assertion" with what?
A baseless and foolish assertion!

mockturtle said...

Damn, Bad Lieutenant! I thought you were alluding to my assertion that Tennessee Williams was America's best playwright. ;-)

Robert Cook said...

"Cook, please consult a dictionary for the definition of "irony." Others would refute with evidence or analysis, such as a counterexample, a good play that is neglected perhaps, but you retort to "a baseless and foolish assertion" with what?"

Please. The cultural landscape is full of good and excellent works of art that are un- or under-appreciated, or even ignored. Herman Melville was a popular writer until MOBY DICK destroyed his career. After, he published little, and all he did publish was ignored.

Now, MOBY DICK is seen as a towering masterpiece, and the work he wrote after it is as nearly esteemed.

The notion that art works that are little-read or heard or seen must be unnoticed because they are no good is puerile on its face.

Mick said...

"Continuous growth is the ideology of a cancer cell."

Bad Lieutenant said...

Moby-Dick was a play?

Bad Lieutenant said...

If yours is a generic lament for the unrecognized or late-recognized genius, Cook, no time or place has the monopoly. Herman Melville wrote MD in 1851. A century later, Patrick O'Brian couldn't get arrested in the UK, and had to be published in America to gain the recognition he deserved.

rcocean said...

"The cultural landscape is full of good and excellent works of art that are un- or under-appreciated, or even ignored. Herman Melville was a popular writer until MOBY DICK destroyed his career. After, he published little, and all he did publish was ignored"

Actually, there are very few "Moby-Dick's" - if you look at say, the Top 100 novels of the 20th century on various lists, you'll see that 90% of them were popular, or very popular when first published. The same is true of the 19th century novels. Cooper, Hawthorne, Twain, Howells, London, Crane, Alcott, etc. were all popular when they were alive. Even Melville's earlier work (Omoo, Typee, white jacket) was very popular.

People just don't want to accept the fact that culture's have dead periods where nothing much good is produced. Tell me about all the great American plays from 1860-1910. Tell me about all the great Westerns since 1980. Tell me about all the great Symphonies that have been produced since 1970.

Robert Cook said...

"If yours is a generic lament for the unrecognized or late-recognized genius, Cook, no time or place has the monopoly. Herman Melville wrote MD in 1851. A century later, Patrick O'Brian couldn't get arrested in the UK, and had to be published in America to gain the recognition he deserved."

You miss the point of my remarks. One may certainly lament late- or unrecognized genius, to be sure. My remarks had to do with the silly statement (about Albee) to the effect that, as "no one had cared about anything he had written in 50 years," nothing he wrote after VIRGINIA WOOLF was any good. I was challenged on this point, so I mentioned Melville as a prominent example. MOBY DICK destroyed his career. He--and MOBY DICK--were ignored and forgotten, and it was only in the 20th Century that a reappraisal of MOBY DICK (and Melville's few later works) found them to be, to say the least, of great merit.

There are lesser examples of artists who make a big early splash--winning awards, enjoying prosperity--whose careers go into decline even as they continue working. Sometimes the decline in their careers is due to a decline in their work. Other artists' work may remain as well-done as their earlier popular work--(or it may even improve)--but the public simply loses interest. To dismiss with a snide remark that the later work of an artist who no longer enjoys widespread public attention is "not very good"--because the public is no longer attentive to it--is useless and ignorant. To legitimately come to such a conclusion, one would have to do a serious and close analysis of the artist's life's work.

Robert Cook said...

rcocean @ 11:43 AM:

You seem willfully obtuse.

To get back to my original questions: Are you a theater maven? Are you a student of Albee's works? If so, you may have a basis to dismiss the whole of his body of work after WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, (though you provided no indication you have such basis). You simply dismissed his work as the mediocre work of an artist gone creatively to seed, continuing for decades to write plays that were no good, their lack of quality "proven" by the lack of attention paid to them by the general American public.

Such a remark is a perfect example of know-nothingism, its bankruptcy of useful knowledge or information matched by the bountiful certainty with which it is stated.

(The only reason the American public at large paid even the slight attention to Albee that it did was because of the film of his first big play, starring the couple du jour, Burton and Taylor.)

Bad Lieutenant said...

Again, Cook, a counterexample or two (of quality later works by Albee) would really cement your argument, if you have any.

rcocean said...

"Again, Cook, a counterexample or two (of quality later works by Albee) would really cement your argument, if you have any."

He doesn't have any. The obvious, most effective counter-argument to "Albee didn't write any good plays that had any impact on the US public in the last 50 years"

Is to point out the specific plays that were good and DID have an impact on the US public. I already conceded that the Albee continued to dazzle the Broadway critics on occasion but outside that tiny elite, no one seems to have given a damn.

I always struck how when you point out the sterility and overall mediocrity of American culture for the last 40 years, you get outraged responses and snark.

What you don't get is a list of all the great movies/plays/paintings/operas/symphonies/novels that have been produced during that time frame.