Show Summary Details

Page of

 PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, LITERATURE (literature.oxfordre.com). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2016. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited. Please see applicable Privacy Policy and Legal Notice (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 14 December 2017

Albee, Edward

When Edward Albee broke upon the American theater scene in 1960 with The Zoo Story, he was immediately recognized as a brilliant and exciting young voice. Critics, magazine editors, and the public all welcomed this handsome, somewhat morose young man into the world of serious art. In fact he was the first recognized American absurdist, tapping into the post–World War II European tradition of Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean Genet. A loud chorus of critical praise met his early works, including The Sandbox (1960) and The American Dream (1961), in addition to The Zoo Story (1959). When Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opened on Broadway in 1962, his fame was sealed. But that was also, in some rather American sense, the beginning of the end. It was, certainly, the end of the uncritical adulation.

Over the next forty years he wrote a number of serious plays and had numerous productions, on Broadway and off. Although since the Pulitzer Prize–winning production of Three Tall Women in 1994, Albee's reputation has been on the rise, never again has he risen to those early heights of critical esteem. In the last decades of the twentieth century, his work did not attract the ongoing theater attention received by the plays of Sam Shepard or David Mamet. In college drama courses and anthologies, the same few early Albee plays have been represented again and again. Since the early 1960s, of course, when absurdism defined the cutting edge, it has never engaged the theatergoing public much in America—as opposed to Europe, where audiences have been much more comfortable with it and with experimentalism in general.

Certainly, Albee has left a definitive mark on contemporary theater. He is a boldly experimental playwright with an ongoing avant-garde orientation, sometimes absurdist, sometimes symbolist, sometimes surrealist. With his fresh theatrical voice, he influenced other young playwrights of the 1960s like Rochelle Owens, Maria Irene Fornes, Jean-Claude Van Itallie, Israel Horovitz, Adrienne Kennedy, John Guare, Megan Terry, David Rabe, Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, and others. As an absurdist, Albee is committed to playing games with the audience, mocking communication, breaking the rules of realism, introducing imaginary or surreal but nonetheless potent threats onto the stage, and generally refusing to create easy, answer-providing work. His most famous play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is more naturalistic than most of his work, and as such it continues to attract respect and attention.

Despite stylistic variations, in his subject matter Albee has remained intrigued with certain characteristic themes: attacks on the dysfunctional American family, particularly the sadistic, self-serving mother and her powerless mate; American manhood under siege; infants and children at risk of loss or dismemberment; and the terror of wasted lives. Real and pseudo-families dominate his plays, which convey a constant sense that the ties that bind people also destroy them. A recurring issue is the crippling effects of familial transactions, along with the ways in which people refuse to grow. His is a nightmare vision, but usually treated with acidic humor so that the mood is more satiric than tragic, often falling into the category of black humor. Albee has one core story that he tells repeatedly: a baby arrives in a home and by hook or by crook is destroyed. Of course, since that happened to Oedipus in ancient Greece (although he survived the attempt at infanticide), it is a story with a strong classical resonance.

Looking at Albee's career, one impressive aspect is his refusal to shape his plays to commercial expectations or even to the desires of serious critics. Although play after play in the 1970s and early 1980s provoked strong critical, often vituperative attack, Albee continued to walk his own path. He has obviously made a strong personal commitment to writing exactly what he needs to write in whatever challenging style he chooses. He has brought reptiles on stage as characters, persisted in his obsession with the very rich, and not moved in any overtly political direction. His plays contain stripped-down story lines, often of a fantastic nature, and highly stylized language. They possess a musical quality: self-doomed creatures singing arias of pain and betrayal in an ever-less-recognizable world. His approach may prove right in the long run, since such plays may last longer than those more closely tied to contemporary American society and its issues.

Albee's Life

Born on 12 March 1928, in Washington, D.C., Edward Albee was adopted as an infant by a very well-to-do couple, Reed Albee and Frances Cotter. They created an economically privileged existence for him, with sumptuous homes in Larchmont, New York; on Park Avenue in Manhattan; and in Palm Beach, Florida, during the winter. But as a child and afterward, Albee felt unloved and unappreciated by this couple, remote from his mostly silent father (who had inherited his wealth from the family's very profitable family vaudeville theaters) and alienated by his cold, manipulative mother. During his childhood, young Edward attended a number of private schools, settling at last at the prestigious Choate prep school in Wallingford, Connecticut, from 1944 to 1946. Choate proved to be his first intellectual home.

After only a year and a half at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, Albee was asked to leave for failing to attend certain required courses and compulsory chapel. He then lived at home for some months, drinking, partying, commuting to New York City for a job as an office boy, and generally annoying his controlling mother. Following a particularly bitter family quarrel, he moved out at the age of twenty and did not return to see or speak with his mother again for seventeen years. He later said that he had felt “an enormous release” upon leaving; “That part of my life had absolutely ended” (Gussow, p. 71).

Albee headed immediately for Greenwich Village in New York City, an exciting place to be in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The art world was alive with abstract expressionism (including such artists as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline), and the literary world was getting ready to burst forth in new directions with Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, Delmore Schwartz, and Allen Ginsberg. But at the time Albee hung out mostly with a crowd of serious music composers (William Flanagan, Ned Rorem, and Aaron Copland), going to their favorite haunts to drink and talk after hours spent at various insignificant and generally briefly held day jobs, like record store clerk or hotel desk clerk. His longest job was as a Western Union messenger; it gave him the most freedom and he liked walking around the city. Albee acknowledges that the character Jerry in The Zoo Story emerged from his experience delivering telegrams to the denizens of the decayed rooming houses on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Until he was around twenty, Albee occasionally dated women and even became briefly engaged to the sister of a good friend, but once he had severed his ties with home, he embraced his homosexual identity, a predilection he had been aware of since puberty. As he said looking back, “For God's sake, what did I think I was doing? I was going to bed with boys from age thirteen on and enjoyed it greatly” (Gussow, p. 70). An early and significant relationship—both close and volatile—was with the composer William Flanagan, five years his elder, but more than that, his teacher in the ways of sophistication and the artistic subculture. The gay world in Manhattan at the time (in the early 1950s) was cliquish, a tight-knit family in which heavy drinking and sexual freedom defined a kind of witty, noir, clandestine existence.

Once Albee entered the public world with his 1959 production of The Zoo Story in Berlin, Germany, his life changed significantly. The next several years were filled with productions of new plays, culminating in the extremely successful Broadway production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; the drama jury awarded it a Pulitzer Prize that was then withdrawn by the advisory board, which—shocked by the play's language—decided to give no Pulitzer in drama that year. Virginia Woolf did win both the New York Drama Critics Circle best drama award that year and the Tony Awards for best play, best production, best director (Alan Schneider), best actress (Uta Hagen), and best actor (Arthur Hill). Nonetheless, the early Pulitzer Prize controversy set the tone for later battles fought over Albee's work so that in 1981, when he was writing the introduction to a collection of his early plays, he noted: “I have learned…that experimental plays, dense, unfamiliar and lacking proper road signs meet with considerable critical and audience hostility” (Gussow, p. 322).

It was a circumstance he would encounter repeatedly throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Yet Albee refused simply to leave the theater or quit writing plays. Instead, he turned some of his attention to nurturing other writers, to teaching playwriting, and to lecturing widely around the country on the subject of theater. His support of other artists and writers had been generous from the start; in 1969 he founded the William Flanagan Memorial Creative Persons Center in Montauk, Long Island, a place for artists to retreat and do their work.

In terms of his reputation, Albee's career could be divided into three phases. The first, early fame, ran from 1959 to 1966, its highlight being Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which played on Broadway for 664 performances and then was directed most effectively on film in 1966 by Mike Nichols, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The second phase would be one of growing disaffection between Albee and theater critics; a number of plays opened and closed very quickly, culminating in The Man Who Had Three Arms (1982), which Frank Rich labeled in his New York Times review, “a temper tantrum in two acts.” It lasted on Broadway for only sixteen performances in 1983, and after that Albee did not open another major production in New York City until 1994, with Three Tall Women. That successful production, for which he received his third Pulitzer Prize for drama, would be the commencement of the third phase: the welcoming of Albee back into critical esteem, at least in terms of the New York theater reviewers. In Europe throughout his whole career there has been an ongoing interest in his work, with regular productions throughout eastern and western Europe. In 2002 Albee won the Tony Award for best play of the season for The Goat; or, Who Is Sylvia?. This marked his definitive return to the commercial limelight.

Early Plays

Albee's first serious play, written as a thirtieth birthday present to himself, was The Zoo Story, which received its premier production in Berlin, Germany, in 1959. It is a brilliant theater piece, the perfect balance of two characters, Peter and Jerry, strangers who meet in Central Park in Manhattan and discover between them an attraction and repulsion that leads to violence and death. Jerry is the active, agitated, dangerous one of the pair, who tells his life story to the conventional Peter, while prodding him to face the stifling restrictions of his bourgeois life. Jerry's language is marvelously alive, filled with a brutal poetry and a searing vision of his existence. He tells the story of himself and his landlady's dog, a tragicomic monologue that almost alone assured Albee's continuing theatrical significance.

He followed up this play with The Sandbox (1960) and The Death of Bessie Smith (1960), both talented works, but of the two The Sandbox has had the longer stage life. It is a very short, darkly humorous, absurdist one-act play about fourteen minutes in production, in which Mommy and Daddy take Grandma to the beach to die. They place her in a large child's sandbox to wait for the end. On stage also are a musician and a handsome young man doing calisthenics, who is both the object of sexual desire and the angel of death. Mommy's callous disregard for her own mother is the classic Albee vision of motherhood—all false sentiment and concern with doing things by the book. Her husband, Daddy, is just a weak, foolish, yes-man. Albee removed the characters for this play from his longer work, The American Dream, then in draft. The feisty grandmother is based on his own maternal grandmother, who lived with his family while he was growing up. The theme of facing death, and accepting it, is one that would persist in his work through the next four decades.

The American Dream, his most fully developed absurdist play, is a cutting attack on both the American dream of wealth and success and the American family as horribly dominated by the sick, self-centered matriarch, Mommy. The fatuousness of the characters—Mommy, Daddy, and the adoption lady, Mrs. Barker—produces high comic art. The story involves the escape of Grandma and the replacement of a defective baby adopted many years earlier by Mommy and Daddy.

The baby had not been up to Mommy and Daddy's standards, and so when it “put its hands under the covers, looking for it's you-know-what,” of course they “had to cut off its hands at the wrists.” This comes after they blind the baby because “it only had eyes for its Daddy” (p. 101). And for the last straw in aggravating behavior, the baby simply dies. The handsome stranger who shows up about twenty years later turns out to be the probable twin of the flawed baby, and he fits right into the household, now determined to get restitution for the prior loss. Grandma closes the play, deciding to leave things “while everybody's happy,” Mommy most of all, with the exceedingly desirable young man in his role as baby replacement and cocktail maker.

Albee's next play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is his almost universally acknowledged masterpiece: a stunning examination of a long-married academic couple's fiercely destructive psychological games filled with delusion, denial, and rage as well as love. Their struggle takes place during one long night of drinking and entertaining, where—for their delectation—George and Martha play a committed game of “get the guests,” along with an attempt at “hump the hostess,” with a younger couple that is new to their college community. All the bitter bile of their long marriage, with its crushed hopes and mutual fantasies, gets spilled onto the rug in front of their embarrassed guests, who play both audience and victim, until finally the story of their “son” is dragged out to be exorcised.

As George tells it, this boy spends his summers away from home “because there isn't room for him in a house full of empty bottles, lies, strange men, and a harridan” for a mother (p. 226). But Martha sees herself stung by a “vile, crushing marriage” and sees her son as “the one light in all this hopeless…darkness” (p. 227). On this night, George decides to kill off the imaginary son they have created. This seemingly sadistic act leads at the very end to some moments of truth, which for Albee are essential to leading a life worth living: “I think once they've brought their marriage down to level ground again and gotten rid of the illusion, they might be able to build a sensible relationship” (Kolin, ed., Conversations, p. 187). Whether such hopefulness exists at the end of the play, there has been a strange, almost redemptive quality in the ceremony that rids them of illusion, with George murmuring in Latin the Mass of the dead.

Critical Controversy

With Tiny Alice (1964), Albee entered a new phase for critics and audiences, producing a stylized fable that confused many and annoyed others. For Albee it was a story of the sacrifice of innocence and the intriguing relationship of martyrdom to sexual hysteria. Its style is beyond naturalism, a kind of high allegory, with characters named the lawyer, the butler, and the Cardinal, along with Miss Alice and Brother Julian, the sacrificial lamb of the group. The play revolves around the dealings of the Catholic Church with a mysterious woman, Miss Alice, who plans to contribute $100 million a year to the church, exciting the interest of the worldly Cardinal. But certain of her conditions must be met. Furthermore, it is never made clear exactly why she is giving the money or what she hopes to achieve. It may be as simple as that her enormous wealth is enormously corrupting, and institutions like the Catholic Church are rarely as pure in their actions as they claim to be.

The absurdist elements in this play possess a frustrating quality: the dialogue seems loaded with subtext and even menace, but its mystery leads to no clear human insight. In Harold Pinter's plays the menace implicates the world in which we live, whereas in Albee the menace seems more abstract, even decorative, and at times simply didactic. The entire issue of the nature of reality plays out on stage in a somewhat surreal metaphor—the gigantic house model, which dominates the stage, exists in another dimension—and the audience is left afloat in a world of theological abstraction.

In his simple robes Brother Julian excites the perverse mansion dwellers, who engage in constant games of dominance and sexual power. As in both his earlier and later plays, Albee's fascination with games and game playing implies a certain worldview: the core nature of human interaction is the game. Such a view is in line with absurdist thinking, which denies standard morality and traditional religious values for a more existential vision.

With A Delicate Balance (1966), Albee returns to a more naturalistic scene: the family home of the comfortably upper-middle-class Agnes and Tobias. Other characters include their adult daughter Julia, Agnes's alcoholic sister Claire, and their best friends Edna and Harry. The play takes place over a single weekend, during which Edna and Harry show up uninvited to stay because alone at night in their own house, they have become frightened.

This fear is the thread tying the three acts together. Never precisely named, the fear appears existential in nature, as if to be alive and growing old in a wealthy Connecticut suburb is to be prey to nameless fears, terrors even—something akin to the dread of the dark that small children regularly experience. The home they enter for succor is filled with dysfunctional tensions of its own; Julia is there for a visit (or perhaps to stay) upon the breakup of her fourth marriage in her mid-thirties. No one seems particularly pleased to have her back. And the ever-tippling Claire is a thorn in Agnes's side. Tobias, the “man” of the house, keeps making mostly impotent gestures in the direction of taking some control over the family's endless, bitter squabbles. His manhood is regularly mocked by the three women with whom he lives. Their existence in close, familial conjunction is maintained only with a “delicate balance.” Alcohol consumption plays a large and significant role in most of their lives (as it did in Albee's for at least twenty years before he gave up drinking altogether in the early 1980s).

Albee said in an interview that A Delicate Balance “is about the death of passion…about people realizing that they no longer have freedom of choice any more” (Kolin, ed., Conversations, p. 92). But what has their passion ever been? They talk of nothing of significance. They are wealthy, unhappy, bored, but nonetheless apparently healthy people in their late fifties or early sixties (except for Julia, who is thirty-six). These people remind one of characters in a late Woody Allen film. Yet the play has its fierce defenders, and it won Albee his first undisputed Pulitzer Prize for drama. Given that the year of this play is 1966, Albee is investigating the survival strategies of a certain small subset of Americans caught in a 1950s value system: money and comfort and a well-stocked bar. The big revolutions of the late 1960s have barely begun. This wealthy suburb is like Rome just before the arrival of the Vandals. Besides writing a number of theatrical adaptations from the 1960s to the beginning of the 1980s (The Ballad of the Sad Café, from Carson McCullers's novella; Malcolm, from James Purdy's novel; Everything in the Garden, from a play by Giles Cooper; and Lolita, from Vladimir Nabokov's novel), Albee also wrote more plays: Box (1968), Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (1968), All Over (1971), Seascape (1975), Counting the Ways (1976), and Listening (1977). There is no one theme that links these works. Box and Quotations are derivative of later Beckett, exercises in language as a kind of nonlinear stage music, whereas All Over is quite a realistic depiction of the deathwatch for a famous man, whose exact fame and eminence are never tied down (although critics in the 1970s saw him as a lawyer or a writer, while those reviewing the 2002 revival imagined him as a vastly wealthy, business mogul—which reveals more about critics than the play). Seascape involves an upper-middle-class couple who are apparently happily married (that rare thing in Albee, at least before The Goat; or, Who Is Sylvia?) and are on a seaside vacation when two lizard-like creatures emerge from the ocean to confront them, raising such issues as how one continues actually to live life—or evolve—as opposed to settling merely for a peaceful but unadventurous existence.

From Career Low to Returning Prominence

Albee produced five plays during the 1980s: The Lady from Dubuque (1980), his version of Lolita (1981), The Man Who Had Three Arms (1982), Finding the Sun (1983), and Marriage Play (l987). They all fell into the category of critical failures at the time, but no doubt will be revived under different circumstances in the future. The Lady from Dubuque involves a dying young woman, her glib crowd of friends, her confused and angry husband, and the mysterious lady—clearly not from Dubuque, although that is her claim—who arrives at the end of act one with a black man who eventually appears to be Mr. Death. Albee had been reading the work of psychologist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and was interested in the issues surrounding death and dying: who gets to set the tone, who deserves comforting, and what the dying person actually needs on an emotional level. The play possesses a Strindberg-like poetry as the husband and the mystery lady struggle over who shall comfort the terminally ill woman.

Critics immediately became angry with The Man Who Had Three Arms because they saw in it an attack on themselves that expressed a bitter resentment on Albee's part for his loss of both talent and fame. Albee denied that the play was autobiographical since his protagonist—who had grown the strange third arm and therefore entered the world of celebrity (only to lose his luster when his third arm disappeared)—had originally been a very ordinary advertising man whereas he had been the fair-haired boy of the theater. In the form of an after-dinner speech by a former celebrity, the play reminds one in places of a Chekhov vignette. It is funny, cruel, and way too long.

Finally, in the early 1990s Albee brought to the stage a play with some of his old power. Critics and audiences alike were delighted with Three Tall Women (1991), a two-act play whose characters are three women, A, B, and C, and a young man of twenty-three, the approximate age of Albee when he skipped off to New York City, not to see his mother again for many years. As he explains in his introduction, this is the play in which he comes to terms with his mother—who she was and how she affected him (it is not forgiving but neither is it, according to him, coming from anger: “I felt no need for revenge,” p. ii). A play about old age and dying, it illuminates the sense of different and yet linked selves possessed by one person throughout a lifetime: how shocked we might be at twenty-five to see our fifty-two-year-old self, how unprepared we are to glimpse our future history, and how mocking we might be of our younger selves from a later vantage point.

Albee plays here with time, self-perception, and the way we continually rewrite our lives and our memories. As C says in the second act: “They say you can't remember pain. Well, maybe you can't remember pleasure, either—in the same way, I mean, in the way you can't remember pain. Maybe all you can remember is the memory of it…remembering, remembering it” (p. 107). Like Beckett, Albee is concerned with the strangeness of time's passage and the way in which memory is a construct like fiction; so what is the truth is no longer the issue.

During the 1990s he also wrote The Lorca Play (1992), Fragments (1993), and The Play about the Baby (1998), this final work of the decade proving the most entertaining. The title reveals the level of self-consciousness: it is a “play”; it is playful; it plays with the audience. The four characters are Girl, Boy, Man, and Woman, and the action is quite simple: a girl delivers a baby that she and the boy love just as they love each other with a great youthful joy and innocence. The older couple intervene, mocking their youth, stealing their baby, and ultimately, in a kind exorcism reminiscent of the end of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, they make the baby disappear, not only from the stage but from the consciousness of the young couple—so that, like the audience, the young couple must recognize a world of illusions and delusions. Both witty and sad, the play presents life as theater or game, what New York Newsday described as a “devastating piece of emotional terrorism.” As in The Lady from Dubuque, where characters turn and talk overtly to the audience, so the man and woman address us from the stage, gathering us into their cynical conspiracy, summed up: “Without wounds, what are you?” (p. 50).

Then, in 2002, Albee again won a Tony Award, this time for The Goat; or, Who Is Sylvia?, a play that asks the audience to believe that a highly successful, award-winning, fifty-year-old, happily married architect might fall in love with a goat. As his teenage son says to him: “You're fucking a fucking goat and you tell me not to swear?!” The play is certainly humorous in places, but it is hardly profound; nor does it achieve the kind of shock value that Albee may have expected. He claims he wrote it to get “everybody to be able to think about what they can't imagine and what they have buried deep as being intolerable and insufferable” (Charlie Rose television program, Public Broadcasting System, transcript, 31 May 2002). The problem is that the premise is simply not believable as he wrote it; a dwarf would be more shocking. We do not believe that this nice, clean, upper-middle-class white man is having sex with a goat, and not just sex but intense romantic feelings.

Albee's Art and Legacy

Albee has said, “You see, I write plays about how people waste their lives” (Kolin, Conversations, p. 105). Certainly in interviews he emphasizes his desire to wake up the audience, to make them uncomfortable, to force them to let go of their illusions in order to move toward more troubling realities and insights. He claimed in 1963, “People would rather sleep their way through life than stay awake for it” (p. 25). One of the reasons he often professes a disdain for Broadway is that its audience is too comfortable: “Broadway audiences are such placid cows” (p. 22). For Albee, it is the role of the artist to shake up his audience. The one thing he never wants to be is safe.

The theatergoer both laughs and is horrified at a typical Albee play but ultimately is left with a sense that the world is a cruel and claustrophobic place, dominated by mothers who consume their young and infantilize their mates. It can have an almost comic-book aspect. Middle-class America and its materialistic values were under attack for most of the twentieth century, so Albee's subject matter is not unique. Basically what makes Albee significant is his style, although the cut-to-the-chase rigor in his early short plays dissipated in his later, longer works. Still, the dark, bleak, bitter, humorous, witty Albee does possess a powerful voice, and this voice is his gift to late-twentieth-century theater. As the character called Man says about our lives in The Play about the Baby:

What do we want. Well, I would imagine we want what almost everyone wants—eternal life, in great health, no older than we are when we want it; easy money with enough self-deception to make us feel we've earned it, are worthy people; a government that lets us do whatever we want…a bigger dick, a more muscular vagina; a baby, perhaps?

(p. 27)

The playfulness, self-knowledge, and casual cruelty mark this character as quintessentially Albee-esque.

So, too, the elegant and surprising street speech of Jerry in The Zoo Story, the articulate upper-class musing of Agnes in A Delicate Balance, or the brilliantly urbane chatter of the Man in The Play about the Baby—all reveal Albee's ear for language. The audience is seduced and riveted. Right from the start of his career, he possessed a keen sense of theater as theater, that it is an imitation of reality, as Aristotle pointed out, and that since it is such a construct, it is not limited by reality. What this means in terms of the play's relationship to the audience is that they cannot sit back passively and wait to be entertained, as with television, but that they too must play a role in the event, not be mere witnesses, but guests at the feast.

In terms of his theatrical failures, Albee may have gotten frozen in the world in which he grew up: the world of the privileged Wasp. It is a group that was significant on the American scene in the 1940s and 1950s but ceased to have much impact in subsequent decades. The world of John O'Hara and John Cheever seems rather dated at the start of the twenty-first century. Inherited wealth tends to be a bore, and Albee's work supports such a view, since his very wealthy characters are usually both vicious and vacuous; they overdrink, they loathe their families, and they enjoy the mean remark and the selfish gesture disproportionately. They are, of course, witty. Albee has recognized this pattern in his art over time, remarking of the negative critical reaction to his play All Over: “Maybe they became impatient with these wealthy, self-indulgent people who seem to be most interested in the precision of their language. Maybe the play seemed too distant, too elegant. Of course it does have the problem that so many of my plays have of being about an almost extinct society” (Gussow, p. 285).

Albee's cerebral inclinations place him more in the post–World War II European tradition than the American, which tends toward realism in drama and sentimentality in taste. Avant-garde and experimental theater has a long and significant European tradition: from Alfred Jarry's Ubu roi (1896) and Jean Cocteau's theater of cruelty through Luigi Pirandello and the theater of the absurd. By choosing to work in this other tradition, Albee has both distanced himself from commercial success and introduced useful innovations of style and perception into the American scene, enormously enriching its theater in the process. It is rare in the United States for playwrights over age fifty to produce exciting new work. (O'Neill is the model here, with his late masterpiece Long Day's Journey into Night in 1957). Edward Albee has awakened American theater to the world of the absurd, the illogical, the painful, the dreaded, and the blackly humorous, insisting in play after play that we confront our own darker selves.

See also McCullers, Carson, and her Ballad of the Sad Café; Shepard, Sam; and Theater in America.

Selected Works (Chronologically by First Production)

The Zoo Story (Berlin, 1959)Find this resource:

The Death of Bessie Smith (New York City, 1960)Find this resource:

The Sandbox (Berlin, 1960)Find this resource:

The American Dream (New York City, 1961)Find this resource:

Bartleby (New York City, 1961)Find this resource:

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (New York City, 1962)Find this resource:

The Ballad of the Sad Café (New York City, 1962)Find this resource:

Tiny Alice (New York City, 1964)Find this resource:

Malcolm (New York City, 1966)Find this resource:

A Delicate Balance (New York City, 1966)Find this resource:

Everything in the Garden (New York City, 1967)Find this resource:

Box (Buffalo, N.Y., 1968)Find this resource:

Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Buffalo, N.Y., 1968)Find this resource:

All Over (New York City, 1971)Find this resource:

Seascape (New York City, 1975)Find this resource:

Counting the Ways (London, 1976)Find this resource:

Listening (Hartford, Conn., 1977)Find this resource:

The Lady from Dubuque (New York City, 1980)Find this resource:

Lolita (New York City, 1981)Find this resource:

The Man Who Had Three Arms (Chicago, 1982)Find this resource:

Finding the Sun (Greeley, Colo., 1983)Find this resource:

Marriage Play (Vienna, 1987)Find this resource:

Three Tall Women (Vienna, 1991)Find this resource:

The Lorca Play (Houston, Texas, 1992)Find this resource:

Fragments (Cincinnati, Ohio, 1993)Find this resource:

The Play about the Baby (London, 1998)Find this resource:

The Goat; or, Who Is Sylvia? (New York City, 2002)Find this resource:

Further Reading

Amacher, Richard E. Edward Albee. Rev. ed. Boston, 1982. Useful critical commentary on the plays up to A Delicate Balance, combining explication of the text with Aristotelian analysis.Find this resource:

Bigsby, C. W. E. Albee. Edinburgh, Scotland, 1969. A literary and psychological analysis of Albee's plays.Find this resource:

Bigsby, C. W. E., ed. Edward Albee: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1975.Find this resource:

Bloom, Harold, ed. Edward Albee. New York, 1987. Useful, full bibliography.Find this resource:

Bottoms, Stephen J. Albee: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Cambridge, 2000.Find this resource:

Cohn, Ruby. Edward Albee. Minneapolis, 1969.Find this resource:

Gussow, Mel. Edward Albee: A Singular Journey. New York, 1999. An excellent biography by a theater critic that deals with both Albee's life and art and provides detailed information about various productions of his plays.Find this resource:

Hayman, Ronald. Edward Albee. London, 1971. Covers both Albee's early plays and his adaptations through All Over.Find this resource:

Hirsh, Foster. Who's Afraid of Edward Albee? Berkeley, Calif., 1978. Sees Albee as a self-absorbed stylist and regards his work as growing increasingly arid.Find this resource:

Kolin, Philip C., ed. Conversations with Edward Albee. Jackson, Miss., 1988. Extremely useful collection of many in-depth interviews with Albee conducted by a variety of people.Find this resource:

Kolin, Philip C., and J. Madison Davis, eds. Critical Essays on Edward Albee. Boston, 1986. A large compilation of writers, ranging from Robert Brustein to Ruby Cohn to John Kenneth Galbraith, and including an annotated bibliography of Albee interviews.Find this resource:

Paolucci, Anne. From Tension to Tonic: The Plays of Edward Albee. Carbondale, Ill., 1972. Places Albee in a national context as an American and also in the tradition of the French absurdist writers.Find this resource:

Rose, Charlie. “Charlie Rose Transcript” #3216 (31 May 2002). Public Broadcasting System.Find this resource:

Roudané, Matthew C. Understanding Edward Albee. Columbia, S.C., 1987.Find this resource:

Roudané, Matthew C. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Necessary Fictions, Terrifying Realities. Boston, 1990.Find this resource:

Rutenberg, Michael E. Edward Albee: Playwright in Protest. New York, 1969. Sees Albee as a social protester committed to the cause of human dignity.Find this resource:

Stenz, Anita Maria. Edward Albee: The Poet of Loss. New York, 1978.Find this resource:

Wasserman, Julian N., ed. Edward Albee: An Interview and Essays. Houston, Tex., 1983.Find this resource: