Edward Albee, one of the greatest playwrights of his generation, has died. But his insightful, disturbing, exquisitely written and often hysterically funny plays remain. They will be produced, occasionally fall out of favor, then be rediscovered in perpetuity. Such were his remarkable gifts.
Albee lived in the neighborhood of the Coconut Grove Playhouse when I was its producing artistic director. He already had a history there, having written a play titled “The Man Who Had Three Arms” for its New World Festival.
It was not a success.
When we met, he suggested his Pulitzer Prize-winning “Seascape” — which he also wanted to direct. His “sea play” as he called it, earned critical acclaim.
He helped the Playhouse raise money for repairs when deterioration problems required immediate attention. We produced his play “ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Clive Barnes, theater critic for New York Times, came to Miami and said it should move — immediately — to Broadway. Albee said No. He had an acclaimed Broadway revival of “A Delicate Balance” and did not want to be judged solely on past works. No danger, thanks to the Pulitzer Prize for “Three Tall Women” and a future Broadway Tony Award for best new play — “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?”
When he met Kathleen Turner who was performing the premiere of “Tallulah” at the Playhouse about Tallulah Bankhead, this great author pitched the actress on considering playing the lead in his “Tiny Alice” about to be produced in NYC.
Turner turned him down, citing her lack of identification with “Alice.” But she indicated that she would want to play Martha should “Virginia Woolf” be produced. This led to her acclaimed Broadway performance and a Martha for the ages.
When I directed his work “A Marriage Play”, I suggested the play needed further cuts. I held my breath. He looked at me, said nothing and left the rehearsal room. When he returned he conveyed that, indeed, a cut was needed, but not where I wanted it. He showed me his changes, we tried it and, of course, he was correct.
Albee was always in service of the truth and proved it by eliminating material he loved so that his play could be even more penetrating.
Arnold Mittelman is president/producing artistic director of the National Jewish Theater Foundation.