Edward Albee was born in 1928 in Washington D.C. He grew up in an affluent family, the adopted son of Reed and Frances Cotter Albee and grandson of famous vaudeville producer Edward Franklin Albee. At the age of twenty, Albee moved to New York, picking up odd jobs until his success with The Zoo Story in 1959.
Since then, critics have hailed Albee as an extraordinary playwright, securing his reputation within the ranks of renowned American playwrights Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neill. Stylistically, he has been more closely associated with European dramatists Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, who, like Albee, use dramatic form and style to express the chaos and absurdity of the human condition. Upon receiving a Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996, Albee was praised for “changing the landscape of American drama.”
Albee’s most influential work is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It was first produced on Broadway in 1962 and was later made into a film directed by Mike Nichols, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; it is one of the most frequently performed contemporary plays in American theater. At the time it was produced, theater critic Richard Watts called it a “shattering” drama and contended that Albee could be placed “high among important dramatists of contemporary world theater.” In the play, Albee’s brilliant use of colloquial language uncovers the fury and decay brewing between the two protagonists. “A play should bring its audience some special sense of awareness of the times,” Albee explained. “[it should] alter and shape that awareness in some significant manner.”
The protagonist for his 1994 play Three Tall Women was inspired by Albee’s adoptive mother. Although Albee’s relationship with his mother was rocky—she adamantly opposed his homosexuality and disinherited him from her will—he wrote the play because he wanted to create a fictional character “who resembled in every way, in every event, someone I had known very, very well . . . I recall being very interested in what I was doing—fascinated by the horror and sadness I was (re)creating.” In a review of the play, the New York Times wrote, “Her presence reinforces what has always been implicit in the playwright’s works: life must be defined by the inescapable proximity of death.”
Albee’s play, The Play About the Baby, ran on Broadway in early 2001. Currently, Albee teaches playwrighting and creative writing at the University of Houston.
Excerpt from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962)
GEORGE(Returning with HONEY and NICK’S drinks)At any rate, back when I was courting Martha, she’d order the damnedest things! You wouldn’t believe it! We’d go into a bar . . . you know, a bar . . . a whiskey, beer, and bourbon bar . . . and what she’d do would be, she’d screw up her face, think real hard, and come up with . . . brandy Alexanders, creme de cacao frappes, gimlets, flaming punch bowls . . . seven-layer liqueur things.MARTHAThey were good . . . I liked them.GEORGEReal lady-like little drinkies.MARTHAHey, where’s my rubbing alcohol?GEORGE(Returning to the portable bar)But the years have brought to Martha a sense of essentials . . . the knowledge that cream is for coffee, lime juice for pies . . . and alcohol (Brings MARTHA her drink) pure and simple . . . here you are, angel . . . for the pure and simple. (Raises his glass) For the mind’s blind eye, the heart’s ease, and the liver’s craw. Down the hatch, all.MARTHA (To them all)Cheers, dears. (They all drink) You have a poetic nature, George . . . a Dylan Thomas-y quality that gets me right where I live.GEORGEVulgar girl! With guests here.MARTHAHa, ha ha, HA! (To HONEY and NICK) Hey; hey!(Sings, conducts with her drink in her hand. HONEY joins in toward the end)Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf,Virginia Woolf,Virginia Woolf,Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf. . . .(MARTHA and HONEY laugh; NICK smiles)HONEYOh, wasn’t that funny? That was so funny. . . .NICK (Snapping to)Yes . . . yes, it was.
Selected WorkFragments (1993) Three Tall Women (1991, Pulitzer Prize)Marriage Play (1987)Finding the Sun (1982-83)The Man Who Had Three Arms (1981-82)Another Part of the Zoo (1981)The Lady From Dubuque (1977-78)Counting the Ways (l976)Listening (1975)Seascape (1974, Pulitzer Prize)All Over (1971)Box and Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (1968)A Delicate Balance (1966, Pulitzer Prize)Tiny Alice (1964)Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1961-62, Tony Award)The American Dream (1960)The Death of Bessie Smith (1959)Fam and Yam (1959)The Sandbox (l959)The Zoo Story (1958)
LinksEdward Albee biographyArtists Repertory Theatre biographyEdward Albee general siteNew York Times Albee page with linked articles