Edward Albee: Icon of American Theatre
“I’d read about the Village, how Bohemian it was, and after getting thrown out of college, couldn’t wait to get here.” So were the words of groundbreaking playwright Edward Albee (March 12, 1928 – September 16, 2016).
A lifelong “Villager,” Albee was the recipient of Pulitzer Prizes for A Delicate Balance (1966), Seascape (1972) and Three Tall Women (1994).
In 1963, following his successful Broadway debut with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Albee took over the SoHo Playhouse in the South Village. Realizing that the future of theater was in jeopardy without incubator space for emerging writers to experiment with form, style, and content, he used his own funds from the profits of his success to produce the plays of other young writers. The philosophy of his production company, The Playwrights’ Unit, centered on the notion that American playwrights deserved a forum in which to learn and take risks in full public view. And so, through the mission of his company, the world was introduced to the brilliance of young playwrights Sam Shepard, LeRoi Jones, Adrienne Kennedy, Terrence McNally, John Guare, Frank Gagliano, Lanford Wilson, Lee Kalcheim, Megan Terry, and many others.
Albee never felt a connection with his conservative parents and lifestyle while growing up. Adopted by Reed and Francis Albee, he was raised in suburban Westchester and lived a privileged life, attending various private schools in New England. He was enrolled at Trinity College in Hartford, CT for a time before leaving school to find refuge in Greenwich Village. There he found a community of like-minded artists and settled. He became friends with fellow writers, painters and musicians including playwright William Inge and composers David Diamond, Aaron Copland, and William Flanagan. In the 1950’s he began writing plays.
The Zoo Story, a one-act piece about two men who meet on a park bench in Central Park, was his debut, and premiered in West Berlin (alongside a Samuel Beckett play) in 1959. The Zoo Story was performed in Greenwich Village the following year, helping to start the movement to produce plays Off-Broadway.