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Edited by David A. Crespy and Lincoln Konkle

Edward Albee as Theatrical and Dramatic Innovator offers eight essays and a major interview by important scholars in the field that explore this three-time Pulitzer prize-winning playwright’s innovations as a dramatist and theatrical artist. They consider not only Albee’s award-winning plays and his contributions to the evolution of modern American drama, but also his important influence to the American theatre as a whole, his connections to art and music, and his international influence in Spanish and Russian theatre.

Contributors: Jackson R. Bryer, Milbre Burch, David A. Crespy, Ramon Espejo-Romero, Nathan Hedman, Lincoln Konkle, Julia Listengarten, David Marcia, Ashley Raven, Parisa Shams, Valentine Vasak

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Nathan Hedman

Abstract

Edward Albee’s recognition scenes can be strange and violent, often carrying the valence of a religious “epiphany.” In an epiphany the mental content is often secondary to the embodied, largely inarticulate brush with some other reality. After demonstrating a pattern in such “other realties” in The Zoo Story, Tiny Alice, and Seascape, the author shows how that pattern elucidates how epiphany works in The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? The surprising conclusion is that what is principally conveyed through Albeean epiphany is not a transcendent reality per se (typically a religious project), but rather the opposite: the feeling of being secular, of living within what the philosopher Charles Taylor calls an “immanent frame.” A final comparison with Peter Shaffer’s Equus clearly demonstrates Albee’s innovation. While Shaffer represents religious tradition as a meaning-rich foil against an enervated modernity, Albee moves beyond primitivistic nostalgia by deploying religious traditions as a fulcrum to launch characters into immanent, inarticulate ecstasy. The result, however, is a desperate, even tragic loneliness through a shared, secular, immanent frame of reference.

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David A. Crespy

Abstract

Delving deeply into a selected history of Edward Albee’s connection with theatrical design, and his relationship with his designers, this article seeks to tease out not only Albee’s unusual rapport with designers but also his life-long bonds with many different types of artists outside of the theatre, including visual artists, composers, and sculptors, all of whom influenced the nature of Albee’s playwriting. Also discussed in this essay is Albee’s presence as an occasional curator, mentor, and purchaser of art in the New York art scene. The nature of visual and aural spectacle in Edward Albee’s own plays was deeply influenced by these affiliations with artists, and here too, the author attempts to analyze the dramaturgy of Albee’s drama through the lens of theatrical design. What becomes important is Albee’s innovation in the promotion of emerging art and artists, a project which he engaged in from the earliest point in his career to his final years as one of America’s leading dramatists.

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David A. Crespy and Lincoln Konkle

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Parisa Shams

Abstract

Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? blurs the boundaries between human and animal to unveil the transgressive impulses and perplexing emotions that define and disrupt our most intimate bonds. Albee substitutes the human with an anthropomorphized animal at the center of an epiphanic recognition scene where the human forms a queer kinship with the animal, thus breaking ties with his human kin. How do the human and animal become kin whilst the bonds of kinship between humans break apart? What subjects the animal to bodily harm in the hands of humans blinded by passion, rage, and grief? Albee’s turbulent tale of love and loss provides us with a context to think about the interplay of kinship and the ethics of vulnerability and violence. Here, Albee’s unsettling provocation of conventions of the tragic genre is put into dialogue with Judith Butler’s ethics of vulnerability and her reading of Emmanuel Levinas’s ethical philosophy of the face.

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Ashley Raven

Abstract

“A Queer Reading of Love in Edward Albee’s Counting the Ways” discusses the innovation behind Albee’s 1977 play. Albee destabilizes the socially acceptable concepts of marriage and love through his use of language to expose them as merely performative acts that lack deeper emotional meaning through the now arcane conduit of vaudeville. Counting the Ways forces its characters to confront their illusions about these sacrosanct rites of human life by questioning themselves, their marriage, and whether or not love exists within it. The search for truth leads the characters to “identify themselves” to the audience who serve as witnesses to this deconstruction of a typical American marriage.

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Milbre Burch

Abstract

This chapter traces Edward Albee’s use of direct address, gestural storytelling, and mythic metaphor in service to his thanatological themes in three plays—The Sandbox (1960), The Lady from Dubuque (1980) and Three Tall Women (1991)—in which the playwright places the act of dying at center stage. Using these myriad communication strategies, the playwright offers his audiences (and his readers) a roadmap to our own extinction, challenging us to approach dying intentionally in order to live our lives more fully. The essay addresses Albee’s work as an innovator of theatrical thanatology—that is, dramatizing the dying process and modeling interactions between the dying and their caregivers—while writing strong women characters. Each of the plays in this study portrays a woman poised at the border between life and death. Her journey across that border is eased by the appearance of one or more unexpected end-of-life companions. Along the way, the dying women (and their deathbed helpers) share autobiographical anecdotes, addressing the audience directly, if the other characters onstage prove to be bad listeners. When words fail them, their gestures speak volumes about their relationships with others. Finally, in each of these works Albee wittingly or unwittingly invokes the chthonic Goddess Hecate, whose triple aspect allows her to see in many directions at once.