About Edward Albee
Although he received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2005, playwright Edward Albee has known his share of setbacks and disappointments.
His searing one-act play The Zoo Story was first turned down by multiple theaters in New York before receiving its premiere in Berlin in 1959. And although the Pulitzer Prize drama jury selected his Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as the 1963 winner, the advisory committee overruled the selection explaining that the play did not offer a wholesome view of American life.
Both plays are now considered modern drama classics, and Albee is considered by many theater lovers to be America’s greatest living playwright.
As the adopted son of Reed and Frances Albee, the playwright, who was born in 1928, grew up around theater. Reed Albee was the son of vaudeville magnate and theater owner Edward Franklin Albee II, and the Albee family moved in wealthy social circles. When young Edward Albee showed interest in the arts, however, his parents attempted to steer him toward a career in business.
Albee was expelled from two private schools before graduating from Choate, and he dropped out of Hartford, Connecticut’s Trinity College before moving to Greenwich Village in New York City. Living off a small inheritance from his grandmother, Albee delivered telegrams for Western Union and did other odd jobs while he immersed himself in the arts as much as he could.
He completed his first major work The Zoo Story when he was 30. The play, originally called Peter and Jerry, is an absurdist drama set entirely on a sunny summer Sunday afternoon in Central Park. Albee said in an interview about the play, “All serious art, not just plays, is an attempt to modify and change people’s perception of themselves, to bring them into larger contact with the fact of being alive. Art is not pacification. It’s disturbance.”
After its Berlin debit, The Zoo Story opened Off Broadway in 1960. Albee’s later one acts The American Dream and The Sandbox continued his absurdist themes. In 1962, Albee’s scathing portrayal of marriage, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, opened on Broadway to critical and box office success, despite its unconventional three-hour-plus running time and its use of profanity and sexual themes. The play won the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962–63 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. The play was adapted for the screen in 1966.
Albee went on to receive three Pulitzer Prizes for drama—for A Delicate Balance in 1967,for Seascape in 1975, and for Three Tall Women (which may be seen as a look at his domineering mother) in 1994. Albee has devoted much of his time to encouraging other writers. From 1989 to 2003, he taught playwriting at the University of Houston, and he is the president of the Edward F. Albee Foundation, Inc. which maintains a writers and artists colony in Montauk, New York.
Best Edward Albee Plays
We have listed Edward Albee as number four on our list of best American playwrights.