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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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Julia Listengarten

Abstract

This essay explores the relationship between Edward Albee’s dramaturgy and Soviet theatre, specifically the ways Albee’s dramatic and theatrical innovations impacted the development of Soviet theatre practices during the Cold War period when government-sanctioned socialist realism continued to inform production choices and theatre aesthetics. Considering the journey of Albee’s plays in the ussr, particularly in relation to the country’s shifting politics, I suggest that Albee’s complex dramatic style which blends an absurdist sensibility with irony and social satire challenged the existing socialist realist framework of Soviet productions and paved the way for Soviet, and later Russian, theatre’s experimentation with European absurdists. This discussion expands Albee’s role as a theatrical and dramatic innovator beyond the United States, places him in dialogue with other cultures and theatrical traditions, and welcomes further examination of his innovative influence in a global context.

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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 Marcia

Abstract

This article will analyze and explore two specific techniques Albee routinely employs throughout his work: textual awareness, which increases aesthetic distance reducing audience empathy, and comedy, which draws the audience into the performance without necessarily establishing empathy or overwhelming critical judgment. The interaction and juxtaposition of these two techniques accounts for the unusual and effective relationship that Albee’s plays have with their audience. It also points to the necessity of understanding these relationships in performance and to what end they may ultimately be employed, as well as the overall innovative nature of Albee’s dramaturgy. Textual awareness and comedy swing the hammer of paradox and parable, creating both connection and distance in the audience as well as a resonance that persists long after the performance has ended.

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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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Jackson R. Bryer

Abstract

In this previously unpublished 2003 interview, Edward Albee discusses such topics as the value of a university education in theatre, the role music plays in his playwriting, the value of reading plays, his most memorable theatregoing experiences, his writing process, why he directs productions of his plays and what techniques he uses in doing so, and the kind of audience he wants for his plays. He also offers his opinions on success and rejection, on dramaturgs, on the film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and on color-blind casting.

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Valentine Vasak

Abstract

In his introduction to Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, Edward Albee argues that he requires the audience of his plays to “be willing to experience a work on its own terms,” however obscure it may first appear. In both plays, Albee provides an unsettling visual experience: throughout Box, the stage remains bare except for a slightly distorted black cube; in Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, only the outline of the cube remains. This unusual stage design constitutes a feature of visual innovation marking a distinct break with Albee’s previous plays. This essay seeks to question the part stage design plays in this disquieting theatrical experience and to examine the intensely obscure and geometrical visual setup that Albee imagined to toy with his audience’s spectatorial comfort zone. I wish to demonstrate that the stage structure of the black cube partakes in Albee’s innovative theatrical experiment and that more than a stage frame and a container of theatrical events, the black cube becomes an artistic statement that shapes our reception of both plays.

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Ramón Espejo Romero

Abstract

That Edward Albee’s work displays a singular and complex blend of styles and forms (Naturalism not excluded) is a well-known fact. His role as a dramatic and theatrical innovator, at least in part, hinges precisely upon his not holding on to one sensibility but rather experimenting and blending forms. To ignore the latter when producing his plays would constitute a betrayal of his uniqueness, let alone his idiosyncrasy. As this paper will prove, this is precisely what happened in Spain, a part of whose theatrescape the American playwright has been for nearly sixty years. To begin with, the Albee canon which Spanish audiences have been served was one underscoring the idea of him being a largely (almost exclusively) naturalistic playwright. While this may be slightly unfair even in the case of a play such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, it is even more so with more the unconventional The Zoo Story or The Goat. The strategies of his character as a dramatic and theatrical innovator, which were deemphasized in Spain, will be unpacked, as well as the motivations behind such a widespread approach to staging his plays. At first, it was a matter of how provincial Spanish theatrical culture was, a consequence of repression, censorship and a long dictatorship that doggedly promoted the most rigorous mediocrity in the arts. While in ensuing periods political circumstances were to change radically, who Albee was, theatrically speaking, largely remained unaltered.