Theatre-makers (and lovers) across the country have mourned the passing of playwright Edward Albee this past week. Often described as the premier playwright of his generation, Albee has been inspiring artists and audiences since the 1950s.
Below, a handful of LA theatre community members (of current or days past) remember Albee and the moments they were able to share with him.
“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way to come back a short distance correctly.”
Edward Albee was a towering titan of American drama, a playwright who persevered and succeeded for so many decades, a brilliant intellect, a play whisperer, a scathing tongue, a mischievous wit, an intimidating presence, and a secretly kind man. He quite literally changed my life, both as a star in the American theatre firmament, but also personally, because when I was 21 I had the enormous privilege of working with him. Brilliant, scabrous, scary, witty, warm once I stopped being afraid, above all wise… there is too much to say about this man, and my heart is too full. But the words he has given to the world are touchstones for artists and humans to live by, so I share a few here:
Thank you Edward. We came unto you and you have comforted us. Dear Edward.
The brilliant Edward Albee, one of the most influential artists in our field, has been called back. I am sure that everyone will have a story about a production or an experience. Lord knows, I saw my fair share of his revivals, lucky enough to work on Three Tall Women at the Mark Taper Forum with Marion Seldes, who he considered a muse. I remember the electricity of Rosemary Harris trying to calm down Elaine Stritch in the revival of A Delicate Balance on Broadway. The calm storm inside of George Grizzard before he explodes in that last act. Later, lucky enough to see the tornado that is Kathleen Turner in the revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Bill Irwin.
I met Albee once during my year in Houston, Texas. I would even ride my bike around his apartment building — I was a young stalker! When I had my Off-Broadway debut at Primary Stages a million years ago in New York, he came to my little play unannounced during previews, quiet and unassuming, and he sent me a basket and a beautiful card with words of encouragement. I didn’t want to eat anything in the basket, but I was poor and hungry in those days, and the card lives in a box of memories somewhere. I will always remember that he was denied the Pulitzer for Virginia Woolf because the committee found the play too disturbing for its time. And I remember a great article that Irene Fornes gave us in which Albee talked about living a life with successes and equal failures and learning to love the lessons of both. I could only imagine that O’Neill, Williams and Miller are opening up the pearly gates and handing him a stack of never-ending paper and a pen that will not quit…
I took Edward Albee’s class at the University of Houston when I was in high school. Every week we would meet at his office and walk over to the class together.
He was kinder than he seemed at first. (He had kind of a brusk sense of humor). He read everything I had ever written, wrote me a college recommendation, and told me to be a writer. Anybody who gets asked to read other people’s writing knows what a kindness it is to read a goofy 18-year-old’s entire body of work and to take the time to talk to him about it.
A brilliant writer, a generous and honest teacher, a weird guy with a special point of view who reinvented himself every time he started a new play. This guy wrote a genius play about goat f*cking! And George and Martha, and a dog with a raging boner, and on and on.
I always appreciated that he was diabetic too. What a great mix of talent, bravado, perversion and generosity. I’m grateful to have known him.
What an impact this man had.
I, too, was fortunate enough to have a brief encounter with him while in college. While studying playwriting with his friend Arthur Kopit, our class took a road trip to NYC to watch Albee conduct a rehearsal of Seascape at the Shubert Theatre, with Frank Langella and Julie Newmar. We were privy to a fascinating debate after the rehearsal as Arthur tried to convince Edward he should not try to direct his own original play, but collaborate with a director. The rehearsal had been a bit of a mess. I remember Arthur telling Albee that “if it was an original screenplay it would be fine for him to direct it, because anything you see in your head you can put on the screen.” But theatre is a collaborative art, and he needed someone to help interpret what he wrote for the stage. He went on to say it would be fine for Edward to direct one of his earlier plays — like Virginia Wolf, something that he’s already worked with a director on — but not an unproduced script.
Newmar was replaced with Deborah Kerr shortly afterward, but Albee stayed on as director.
I can’t believe that Mr. Albee is dead. It seemed like he would never die, could never die, would keep standing tall and writing, writing, writing until the end of time. And I wanted it that way.
He critiqued a play of mine, one time. Some of you were there. Great Plains Theater Conference in Omaha. The play was called Heads. The respondents were Will Eno, Romulus Linney, Arthur Kopit, and Mr. Edward Albee. I didn’t sleep for three days before the reading. I don’t remember most of the comments, because I think I was in a hallucinatory state by then. They liked it pretty well, though.
It meant the world to me.
Some people teach you fundamental things about the world, even if you don’t get to be their student. Even if you just listen to them speak from the forty seventh row, when you can get a ticket to hear them speak, and read their plays voraciously.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. So many times. And every time, it shocks me. It rocks me to my foundation.
This is what I take with me: Be fierce. Be uncompromising. Let each play you write make its own rules. Don’t be afraid to get ugly. Don’t be afraid to be strange. Don’t be afraid to be dangerous. Don’t be afraid.
Be brave, young playwrights. Humans everywhere.
[Editor’s note: Albee called Lewis’ play, Heads, “…provocative and wonderfully threatening.”]
It had to happen eventually, but wow, the news of Edward Albee’s death is really making me sad. The last of America’s great dramatists of the 20th century to go.
As a teen just entering the theatre world, acting in and directing works of Mr. Albee gave me some of my most formative experiences. I even got to meet him briefly while in high school. (I got lucky — he can’t have come to Kansas many times in his life.)
He moved easily between linear, by-the-book drama and crazy out-there stuff, and wasn’t afraid to say what he wanted to say, on stage and off. Sounds like Theatre of NOTE, doesn’t it? I’d say we, and pretty much everybody doing theatre in America, owe a lot to Mr. Albee. He’ll be missed.