Edward Albee died Friday. He was 88.
He and I share a birthday. I didn’t know that until today. Today’s generation of high school students and even the last one probably know even less about the man unless some of them have opted for a theater or drama course, and such electives these days are rare: they interfere with the basics, the core, the testing, the standards, etc.
Where I taught, we did at one time offer a speech and drama elective, and Albee was among the playwrights studied—Zoo Story I think. For in the generation after Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, he was the American playwright. No one who saw Death of a Salesman (Miller) or Streetcar Named Desire (Williams) will ever forget it: Albee’s contribution to the unforgettable will remain Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (At the time a New York tabloid newspaper called it “a sick play for sick people.” That newspaper is now defunct—the play continues to be produced.)
I realize that we can’t simply dial up a Broadway production when we want to, but the original movie version of Virginia Woolf starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor will suffice. It’s a tough two hours-plus as a married couple viciously scrape away all pretense and expose their own self-interest while another couple—and we—watch in amusement and horror. Yes you will laugh at times, but you won’t laugh very much as the characters disintegrate before you.
Albee said in a 1991 New York Times interview, “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, as opposed to things done. I find most people spend too much time living as if they’re never going to die.”
In his 88 years, Edward Albee was never guilty of that.