There’s been so much talk about Edward Albee of late–largely, I would assume, because of the Edward Albee Festival that’s currently underway here in DC–that I feel the time is right for me to explain, in as clear prose as I can muster, how important his work has been to me over the years: more important, I dare say, than anyone else’s, though others have come close.
Unless I’m not remembering correctly–and it’s been a long time–the first play I ever read was Zoo Story. I typically went to great lengths to avoid whatever reading assignments my late teacher, Mr. Dennis Gray, gave his class–not because I didn’t like him, mind you, but because I loathed schoolwork–but Zoo Story was another matter entirely. I can remember feeling at once energized and disturbed and utterly unable to put it down. In fact, I may even (and here the memory really begins to struggle) have read it two or three times; I know I’ve read it again a few times since then.
I already knew at 14 that I wanted to be a writer. What I wrote, primarily, were poems, but I wanted to make myself a novelist. To write plays, though? That seemed impossibly difficult… and to write something as astonishing as Zoo Story was not even imaginable.
My next encouter with Albee’s work happened when I was an undergraduate poetry major at Northwestern, building sets and running light boards just for fun on the side. I happened to get a free ticket for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? from a stage manager I worked with, and I ended up paying to see the show two other times (on the meager savings of college student, of course). All three times I left that theater, I left it inarticulate with passion: a transformed young man. I had learned quite viscerally that theater has the potential to be immensely powerful. I still wasn’t ready to think of myself as someone who might actually write a play, but I knew that I wanted to keep being around them as much as possible.
My connection to Albee and his work is yet undimmed. Watching The Goat at Arena Stage–twice–was among my most powerful and important theatrical experiences. As I write this, I’ve just finished reading Everything in the Garden, and the freshness of his voice affected me as much as it ever has before. I learned some years ago that he happened to read a copy of my first play, The Treehouse, and (if I may be so bold) didn’t exactly hate it; I’ll take that with me for as far as I happen to go (to quote, apropos of nothing, Philip Larkin) down Cemetary Road.
I realize that I haven’t said anything particularly profound here; if you’re looking for profound writing about Albee, I suggest you try this piece from HowlRound by Todd London. Still, I felt I needed to say it, given the debt I owe him for the transformation his work has inspired in me. Thank you, Mr. Albee, for everything.