Edward Albee's Mindscape

The acclaimed playwright (and part-time Coconut Grove resident) remains an unparalleled observer of our culture -- and a genuine stickler for details

"You take the trouble to construct a civilization," George tells Nick during a speech in Virginia Woolf, "... to ... to build a society, based on the principles of ... of principle ... you endeavor to make communicable sense out of natural order, morality out of the unnatural disorder of man's mind ..."

"-- I wonder if that's why we sleep at night, because the darkness still ... frightens us?" Agnes muses at the end of A Delicate Balance, closing her speech with: "And when the daylight comes again ... comes order with it."

In our desire to subdue the terrifying unknown, Albee tells us, we traffic in illusions that, while they may temporarily shield us from the pain of reality, also render us less alert, less alive. Loosen that survivalist's grip on illusions and find the courage to live without them -- that is the challenge posed by Albee's plays.

"Art is meant to change us," the playwright insists, "to increase our perceptions, make us examine our values. You want that which is escapist, easy, self-congratulatory. But art is not meant to be any of those things. It's meant to be disturbing, to ask hard questions. Art is not meant to take us out of ourselves. It's meant to put us more into ourselves."

Albee the philosopher and Albee the social critic may posit such ideas in conversation, but Albee the artist knows better than to construct his plays around such ephemera. "I worry about your characters talking theory," he tells Mary Manning at the New World School of the Arts in response to a scene in which a mother and daughter begin speaking naturally but then indulge in speeches about the nature of art. "Theory gets boring on-stage." Turning to the student audience he warns, "Don't worry about what things mean. If you do you won't write a dramatic piece. You'll write a thesis."

He encourages the young writers to concentrate on real people in real situations, and on what happens to those people in those particular situations. "The implications of what happens are what we think about only after we leave the theater," he emphasizes.

Albee rises at the end of his talk and the students rush around him. He autographs copies of his plays and blank sheets of paper; he poses for photographs. Someone hands him a script and he promises to read it. He speaks individually to everyone who approaches him, giving each his full attention. Although he needs to be at the airport in half an hour for a flight to Washington, D.C., where he's slated to receive a National Medal of Arts award, he seems in no hurry to leave.

Not long ago Albee was in Washington for another prestigious acknowledgement -- the Kennedy Center Honors. In fact, he has recently received a host of awards and other adulatory recognitions. Though he is pleased by the accolades, the bedrock of his seemingly unshakable confidence has never been external rewards. Light-heartedly he says the honors are "better than a kick in the teeth." But he counters the humor with this: "You're in fashion. You're out of fashion. When people tell me, 'Isn't it wonderful now that you're back on top again?' I say, wait five years: Edward who?

Owing to a reporting error, two actors were misidentified in a photograph that accompanied Pamela Gordon's profile of playwright Edward Albee ("Edward Albee's Mindscape," January 23). The actors flanking Albee in the photograph (reproduced here) are Jacqueline Brookes and Henderson Forsythe. New Times regrets the error.Info:Published:

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help
Miami Concert Tickets