By: Isa Goldberg
Edward Albee, 1928 – 2016, the three time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and author of the groundbreaking plays Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Zoo Story, passed away at his home in Montauk on September 16th. His life and work were remembered on Tuesday, December 6th at The August Wilson Theatre on Broadway, where he was eulogized by colleagues and friends. Among them, Jack Lenor Larsen of Long House Reserve, the actors Brian Murray, Mercedes Ruehl, and Bill Irwin, as well as playwrights, Terrence McNally, Will Eno, John Guare and directors Emily Mann and David Esbjornson, to mention a few.
Albee the playwright was also remembered for his irreverent and brash behaviors. Describing his arrival, late and inebriated, to a party Noel Coward held in his honor, Murray remarked, that he “looked like an irritable Jesus Christ”, “bouncing around the room and insulting everyone”. Such reports about the outrageous Edward Albee are the subject of lore.
However, Terrence McNally cited their first encounter
more empathically. Meeting at a party at The Metropolitan Opera, Albee
“looked about as ill at ease I did”. Regardless, Albee was, at the time,
on the road to fame with the New York premiere of The Zoo Story.
Naturally, McNally addressed their famous love affair,
“the off off Broadway version of the Burtons”, as he put it. In addition
to McNally, several friends spoke lovingly of Albee’s partner of many years,
Jonathan Thomas who predeceased him in 2005. In September of 2010, when I met
Albee at his Montauk home, he said he was working on two plays: one about a
very evil man, and another about a very good man. The latter character was
based on Jonathan Thomas.
More about that conversation, and the playwright’s legacy can be found at: https://www.ft.com/content/9d442662-b6e9-11df-b3dd-00144feabdc0
Albee’s historic exile from Broadway following a series of critical and commercial failures was also recalled at his memorial.
In the words of the playwright Arthur Kopit, “he withstood the critical
onslaught and kept writing the plays he wanted to write. With his later works,
the Pulitzer prize-winning drama Three Tall Women and The
Goat, Albee renewed his place in the New York theater.
A thirst for truth and self-discovery that riddled his personal life also dominated his plays. “Who am I?” “Who are you?” These are the questions that boldly appear in Albee’s plays, most directly perhaps in A Delicate Balance, in which the late Marian Seldes’ portrayal of a distraught divorcee who runs home to her parents, garnered her a Tony Award. Indeed, her voice was heard on this occasion in audio recordings,
reminiscing about their endearing relationship and the professional esteem they
held for one another. His favorite word, she remarked, was “Onward”.
Photo: Barry Gordin
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