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The Playwright, or, Who is Edward Albee?

 

Just a few short days ago, one of the most prolific and profoundly affecting playwrights of our time passed away. I could say that he was my favorite playwright, I could tell you about the time I saw Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway in 2013, when I left the theatre weeping and confused and utterly changed. But I think I’d prefer to let him – and his work – do the talking.

A Delicate Balance
Edward Albee in London for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of his play A Delicate Balance, 1967. Photo courtesy of Achievement.org.

Much of the fuss around Albee pertains to the tremendous hold he seemed to have over his own work; the authority he asserted in a working environment put many in the business off. Perhaps he was keenly aware that after his death, all we would have to rely on, to interpret, to attempt to understand both him and the worlds he created, would be the text of his plays. In an interview in 2012, Albee said: “All of my plays are about people missing the boat, closing down too young, coming to the end of their lives with regret at things not done.” (New York Times) Perhaps Albee, as well as his characters, was ruled by the fear of death and the potential regret of things left undone. After all, why else re-write a first act to The Zoo Story nearly 50 years after its first publication? But Albee was also a daring man, living his life to the hilt, never ceasing to push back against the boundaries of society. As we mourn his death, we also look back on a controversial figure who alienated as many as he captivated. Who IS Edward Albee, then? Edward Albee, post mortem, can only be the sum of his work, the legacy he has bestowed upon us all.

I’ll give him the last word.

“I can think of nothing worse than getting to the end of your life and figuring out that you hadn’t participated in it, that you hadn’t really lived it. I think people should live dangerously. I think people should live at the precipice.” – Edward Albee (New York Times)

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