American Theatre lost it’s boldest icon, Edward Albee on September 16, 2016 at the age of 88 following a short illness. Jacob Holder, his longtime personal assistant confirmed the news of his peaceful demise at his Long Island home in Montauk, New York.
In a note,which presumably was written a few years in anticipation of the nearing death before undergoing an extensive surgery, Albee said, “To all of you who have made my being alive so wonderful, so exciting and so full, my thanks and all my love.” It was released by Holder along with the statement that confirmed his death.
Famed for his scabrously caustic yet piercingly funny dramas, he explored themes of escapism, self-delusion, death, uncertainty and complexities of intimate relationships and the desperation to break-free from the facade of modern life, through theatre. A Pulitzer prize winning playwright, he has authored more than 25 plays including, The Zoo Story (1958), The Sandbox (1959) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962) , which was later adapted into a critically acclaimed film.
Albee’s five decades of illustrious career, introduced the world to the taste of raw, uncompromising and sometimes even brazen honesty portrayed in the space of theatre. His first play in 1958, The Zoo Story is an example of his razor-sharp wit which jolted the audience out of the slumber of hypocrisy and civil pretence, exposing the realities of an urban American– the social disparity, alienation and dehumanization amid a commercial world.
It was followed by the phenomenal success of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , which concretized his position as one of America’s greatest playwrights and he began to be compared with theatre stalwarts like Arthus Miller, August Wilson and Tennessee Williams. A portraiture of a volatile marriage of middle-aged couple , it painted the intricacies that lie beyond the fabric of the institution of marriage, in an urban landscape. Later in 1966 it was adapted into a black-comedy film, directed by Mike Nicholas and starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, which eventually was nominated for Academy Awards,with Taylor winning the best actress award. Virginia Woolf won Albee much acclaim, which included a Tony in 1963 for best play. It was even nominated for Pulitzer Prize that year,however, the board eventually rejected it. But, his Pulitzer journey was yet to begin.
Throughout his tumultuous commercial career, Albee garnered critical appreciation and three Pulitzer Prizes for best drama. A Delicate Balance (1967) was the one to begin with, which later went out to be adapted into a film starring Paul Scofield and Katharine Hepburn. The second Pulitzer came in 1975 for Seascape and it was followed by Three Tall Women(1994), which won him the third Pulitzer. Later in 2005 he was honoured with the special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.
He was “the American agent of the Absurd, our homegrown equivalent of (Samuel) Beckett.” as Mel Gussow, New York times critic would remember him. With an intense, unpolished honesty his plays plundered his past, to produce works that were often autobiographical in nature.
In his 2007 letter to the audience, Me, Myself and I, Edward confessed his quandary with the idea of untangling his plays to the people who asked ‘what it was about’. His plays according to him, in addition to being complex, were mostly ‘opaque’, which allowed a window of interpretation to the audience.
Albee through his work, taught the world to see, beyond their baggages. His mantra to understand not just his plays, but theatre in general was, “Pretend you’re at the first play you’ve ever seen…Have that experience — and I think ‘what the play is about’ will reveal itself quite readily”.