Albee’s Men: Program Notes

MAR 24, 1998

Glyn O’Malley introduces Albee’s Men

Edward Albee has written 25 plays since The Zoo Story burst into American culture at New York’s Provincetown Playhouse in 1961. That’s twenty-five and counting, because this year not only marks Albee’s 70th birthday but also the opening of his 27th work. The Play About The Baby is due to commence in London in August.

In addition to setting some of the most vividly imagined circumstances contained in the American canon of theatrical work, Albee has created extraordinary characters, some of whom have gone on to become icons of our times. They move with ease through landscapes of complexity and texture unmistakably Albee. In addition, they are born, as he often says, with the added awareness that they are characters – composed, heightened, always intense, living in worlds of reflection and exhilarating wit.

Albee has created over one hundred characters: men, women, the young, the old, the straight, and the gay, and those in between, a rock, a tree, a box, disembodied voices, a couple of lizards. His fecund imagination has sired characters so alive that some of them go on to give birth to hypothetical characters of their very own.

We’ve focused on the men. In listening to the rise of their voices, we’ve noticed an evolving arc in their concerns from precocious youth to steeled later life. They posses a sublime, articulated awareness of an extraordinary array of subtle forces intertwined in their lives.

The men we have selected handle the fibers and pixels of delusion, often their own but still more often, those projected onto them through the lenses of the worlds they inhabit. They often speak in parables, producing stories like enzymes designed to dissolve the cataracts of blurring tissue separating them from direct experience. Sometimes, they sculpt great topiaries of words and image and peek out from behind them, challenging us to find our way out of the mazes of their exquisite gardens. They roar, they lament, they gasp with wonder, they rue, and they laugh with irony piercing wit. Their experiences are always intense; their needs, immediate. Revelation often beckons from the mundane. Jacob’s Ladder unfurls for those with the courage to grasp it. Some of them do.

They are renegades and mavericks, fully alive when walking a streak of danger, and they are sweetly, tenderly timid, curled into the hope of warmth. They are anaesthetized fools trapped in loops of memory, and visionaries parsing their passage to greater clarity. They are the indefatigably “too much” and the relentlessly “not enough;” boy-children/sages and man-boy/clowns, they speak with a meticulous, fluid language that incants the wonder of their often solo sojourns. They are a vibrant, honest chord of our human, yearning nature. Sentiment alone is never enough to comfort them; compassion is all.

I’m not sure if Edward Albee believes in a “soul.” He’s been called our Poet, at various points in his long career. But I’m pretty sure he believes in the vitality of the mind. He has an extraordinary one. In fact, our American twentieth century would not be the same had he not repeatedly opened his mind and shared it with us. He “walks the walk” as the expression goes, and creates plays of stunning architecture and perspicacity. Whether they open on Broadway or in the West End, Bent Elbow, or not at all, he continues to request the truth of finite existence. If one listens closely, it often answers back.

Albee’s Men could not have come into being without the Author’s extraordinarily generous collaboration. We hope that your time this evening with a small sampling of some of the men in these “seven ages,” will open vistas into the magnificent theatrical world of this living titan of American Theatre.

Related Productions