Home > American Theatre, Edward Albee, Mike Geither > Interview–Edward Albee

Interview–Edward Albee

February 20th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

I just finished reading the interview by Carol Rocamora of Edward Albee in last month’s American Theatre. There is, of course, very little I can say that is critical of Albee, after all, he’s a god. I can think of no greater movie-watching joy than that of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf staring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Such ruthless, terrible beauty is seldom seen. But, I thought I’d take some time to comment on some of what I read and some of the things that struck me.

Probably the greatest single thing that struck me from Albee was his statement that he doesn’t write drafts. He says, “No, I think you should write the entire play down the first time, and then fix it with a few touches here and there. You shouldn’t write it down until you think you have the whole play. Playwrights get in terrible trouble when they write a play too soon, and then hope that it finds its shape.” So, Albee lets the play swirl and swirl around in his head. As he comments, “A play begins as an idea translated from the unconscious to the conscious. You’ve been thinking about it a long time and creating it a long time before you’re even aware of it.” Now, there are some plays that I’ve written that I simply cannot imagine writing in one shot. Not even a question of one shot–that is, writing all in one sitting. That would require an exceptional stamina that I don’t think I have. I’ve written a play, not in one sitting, but as near to one sitting as I could muster–maybe a couple of days. But the play was a skeleton. It was bone thin. Air whipped through the ribcages and rattled the untethered jaw bone. I had to go back and “flesh” it out. Put some fat and skin on that sucker. Then I had to rework it after that. But, this is not to say that I don’t find merit in what Albee says. It is more than a simple abstraction. I know well what he means by “get in terrible trouble” and “hope that it finds its shape.” I’ve written plays where I have attempted to jigsaw out an ending and screw it on to the main part of the play I started, but didn’t finish right away.

I was struck by other things as well. First, I was struck by the fact that the “search of family and identity” is so important to him. I’m reviewing in my mind the plays I’ve read, and I haven’t even read his Pulitzer Prize plays…mostly his early ones. I can see in The American Dream and, of course, Who’s Afraid, the focus on family. And certainly in Zoo Story the concern with identity. I guess I’m surprised because my most recent play was very concerned with identity, too. Though, I’ve noticed a lot of religious and mythological creep in my plays–which is why I’m probably such a fan of Shepard. I was very surprised by Albee’s flat commentary on his adoptive parents. Clearly, he’s bitter about that and I can really see it now, in reflection, in thinking about what he said in this interview and the characterization of the mother and father in The American Dream. Further, that “identical twins” is a “theme that has haunted Albee since childhood.” Not because he had a twin that died early on in his life…but because he invented a twin for himself due to his being ignored by his adoptive parents.

I was curious about his foundation and will have to take a look at what that’s about and what it has to offer.

Albee commented that he would never extend a play to make it fit an “evening of theatre” nor would he intentionally shorten it for such an external reason. And then he described how he was workshopping a play of his in preparation for a performance, a three act play, and decided that it was running long and wasn’t working so he just cut the second act. Just cut a whole act. That is either great confidence or an amazing disrespect for what you’ve written. He made it almost sound flippant. Though, upon reflection, I doubt very much it was rashly decided.

It was refreshing to hear him state that “None of my 200 characters is me; all come through me, but I hope the have sufficient individuality.” Then, curiously, “I like to think my plays will not only heal me but also possibly others, that they have enough universality, that the writing of them is not a private act.” My plays will not only heal me… The plays somehow fill a void in him…make him complete. And, of course, to explore.

There are other things that are fascinating, from his interest in directing, to his belief that directing makes his understanding of playwriting greater, his belief in the possibility that all his plays add up to one big play, that non-profit theatres work best because they take risks and chances, the belief that big theaters and for-profit theaters are escapist and pander (one of the things I am always in disbelief of is when I attend Stratford Festival plays and plays at the Shaw Festival how many people–including my mother, aunts, etc., attend musicals), and finally, his shot at MFA programs: which of course, I’m throughly in. However, I think it depends on the program and what that program intends, as I’ve mentioned before, such as in my talk with Theatrically Speaking. The MFA program I’m in at CSU is more focused on writing, workshopping, and getting into theaters–and Mike Geither, whose praises I cannot sing enough, is a fiercely dedicated proponent of this and works tirelessly to get young playwrights into theaters and has been instrumental in my own involvement in convergence-continuuum.

A good, general interview of Albee. Worth a look if you’re a fan.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

%d bloggers like this: