Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, who challenged theatrical convention in masterworks such as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “A Delicate Balance,” died Friday, his personal assistant said. He was 88.
He died at his home in Montauk, east of New York, assistant Jackob Holder said. No cause of death was immediately given, although he had suffered from diabetes. With the deaths of Arthur Miller and August Wilson in 2005, he was arguably America’s greatest living playwright.
Albee was proclaimed the playwright of his generation after his blistering “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opened on Broadway in 1962. The Tony-winning play, still widely considered Albee’s finest, was made into an award-winning 1966 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
“It’s just a quirk of the brain that makes one a playwright,” Albee said in 2008. “I have the same experiences that everybody else does, but... I feel the need to translate a lot of what happens to me, a lot of what I think, into a play.” “I think if a writer gets ideas, you’ve got to get them out of your head,” he said.
His unconventional style won him great acclaim but also led to a nearly 20-year drought of critical and commercial recognition before his 1994 play, “Three Tall Women,” garnered his third Pulitzer Prize. His other Pulitzers were for “A Delicate Balance” (1967) and “Seascape” (1975).
Many of his productions in the years after “Seascape” were savaged by the press as inconsequential trickery, a shadow of his former works. But after “Three Tall Women,” a play he called an “exorcising of demons,” he had several major productions, including “The Play About the Baby” and “The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?,” which won him his second Tony for best play in 2002.
Many of his works had similar things in common: domestic rancor inflamed by booze, a sense of unknown anxiety, a lost child who creates a marital friction and precise but flailing language that alternates between comic and profound. “Each play of mine has a distinctive story to tell,” he told The Santa Fe New Mexican in May 2001. “What unites them all is that I’m trying to make people more aware of whether they’re living their lives fully or not.” With “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, Albee shook up a Broadway that had been dominated by Tennessee Williams, Miller and their intellectual disciples.
It won five Tony’s including best play, actor (Arthur Hill) and actress (Uta Hagen), and the film version won five Oscars including best actress (Taylor) and supporting actress (Sandy Dennis). Albee brought back “The Zoo Story” to startling effect in 2007 with “Edward Albee’s Peter and Jerry.” The shattering encounter between two strangers in a park - the aggressive, almost psychotic Jerry and the bland, middle-aged Peter - that is “The Zoo Story” became the second act of the new work. The first act, based on Albee’s much later “Homelife,” fleshes out Peter’s character.
It was one of a number of fruitful productions around the time the playwright turned 80 in 2008. That year saw the world premiere of his play about identical twins, “Me, Myself and I,” at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, New Jersey; a New York revival of two of his early one-act classics, “The American Dream” and “The Sandbox”; and the premiere of “Edward Albee’s Occupant,” a piece about sculptor Louise Nevelson and the cult of celebrity.
“I couldn’t write for a long time,” Albee told The New York Times in 2007. “The mourning never ends; it just changes. But then I got back into a feeling of usefulness.”SHOW MORE