A molecular-biologist-turned-Buddhist-monk says altruism is the answer to many of the world's most pressing challenges. Can concern for others help solve wealth inequality, climate change and world hunger?
Edward Albee is one of the most influential living American playwrights today. In his over fifty years of works, he’s received numerous awards and the honors keep coming. A new festival of Albee’s plays at Washington, DC’s Arena Stage may be one of the most eclectic presentations of his work. Albee says he’s unaware of any previous undertaking of this type. Among his more revered plays are “A Delicate Balance,” “The Zoo Story,” “Three Tall Women,” and “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
- Molly Smith the artistic director of Arena Stage in Washington D.C.
- Edward Albee an American playwright who is best known for "The Zoo Story," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," "A Delicate Balance" and "Three Tall Women." He received three Pulitzer Prizes for drama; a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement; the Gold Medal in Drama from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; as well as the Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts.
An excerpt from Steppenwolf Theater Company’s 2011 production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at Arena Stage is provided and reproduced by kind permission of Steppenwolf Theater Company and Arena Stage. The actors featured are Tracy Letts as George, Amy Morton as Martha, Carrie Coon as Honey and Madison Dirks as Nick. The production runs at Arena Stage through April 10, 2011:
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Edward Albee has been writing plays for over a half a century. Among his more revered work, "A Delicate Balance," "The Zoo Story," "Three Tall Women" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Over the years, Albee has received numerous awards and the honors keep coming. A new festival at Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage brings the most unparalleled presentations of his work. It includes nearly every one of his plays, staged over a two-month period. Joining us in the studio, renowned playwright Edward Albee and Molly Smith, the artistic director of Arena Stage.
MS. DIANE REHMEdward Albee has said that a playwright's job is to ask interesting questions and expect the audience to provide the answers -- some good answers, and we're expecting the same from both of you this morning.
MR. EDWARD ALBEEWe'll try.
REHMGood morning to you. It's so good to have you here.
ALBEEGood morning. Thank you.
MS. MOLLY SMITHGood morning, Diane.
REHMAnd you are welcome to join us with your questions and comments, 800-433-8850. You can all wish Mr. Albee a happy birthday. He turned 83 on Saturday and looks hale and hearty. How's it feel?
ALBEEBetter than not turning 83.
REHM(laugh) I agree with you. You know, your first play was published when you were just 30. Tell us about that.
ALBEEWell, actually, I was 28 when I wrote it.
REHMTwenty-eight when you wrote it.
ALBEEI'd started writing poetry when I was seven and I quit that when I was 22 because I was getting better, but I wasn't all that good. And I wrote two terrible novels in my teens, really, really bad. Maybe no American teenager could've written two worse novels than I did. And the short story and I didn't get along terribly well, but I decided that I was a writer, having failed as a composer. I'd listened to Bach and I thought, hey, anybody can do that.
REHMI can do that.
ALBEEI want to do that.
ALBEEBut I wasn't as good as Bach, so I didn't do that. And I hit my middle 20s and I said, well, I'm a writer. What am I doing? Why don't I write a play? So I wrote one called, "The Zoo Story" and I realized something. Edward, this is the best thing you've ever written. Maybe you're a playwright. And that turned out to work out better.
REHMSo when you first took it to someone, who did you take it to?
ALBEEWell, I took it to a number of well-known American playwrights who said nice things, but didn't do anything to help. But I knew a lot of young American composers and one of them arranged for a translation into German. So my play, "The Zoo Story," had its world premiere in German in Berlin.
REHMOh, my gosh.
ALBEEOn a double-bill with Beckett's, "Krapp's Last Tape."
ALBEESeptember 28, 1956, I guess it was. And I had to go to Berlin for that, of course. You can only see the world premiere of your first play when it happens. So I went to Berlin and sat there. This young American playwright sat there watching the world premiere of his first play in a language he didn't speak.
ALBEEAnd you just sat there and watched and listened.
ALBEEAnd I was -- I spent a lot of my time looking at the audience to see how they were responding.
ALBEEWhich proved to me that I was a playwright. And it worked out fine. I mean...
REHMAnd then, in 1960, it was put on (word?).
REHMA year later, in '59, it opens in New York in English this time on the same double-bill with the Beckett play and we ran for three years.
ALBEEAnd so I decided, hey, you're a playwright.
REHMMolly, what was your first encounter with Edward Albee?
SMITHMy first encounter with Edward Albee was through his work, which I think is the best way to encounter any artist. And when I was a young person studying in the theatre, I read, "The Zoo Story" and it took the back of my head off. So that's why it's so fantastic to have him here with us at Arena Stage, because his work has influenced so many of us in the theatre, whether we're writers, whether actors, directors, designers because his work is so provocative.
REHMWhat do you think is the most distinct element of Edward Albee's work? I'm going to ask you and then I'm going to ask him.
SMITHFor me, it's his ability to go to the darkest, deepest parts of the human psyche and take us into those dangerous places and let us know it's safe to be there...
SMITH...and let us know it's safe to be there and here's a way out.
REHMGive me an example.
ALBEE"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I mean, I think it's a perfect example of where the story goes, where the story goes in terms of their relationship because ultimately, it's a relationship about love.
REHMLet's hear a tiny excerpt of that play.
ALBEEWonder what recording that is. Wonder what performance that is. I didn't recognize the voices.
SMITHI think it's Tracy. I think it's Tracy Letts and Amy Morton.
ALBEEI don't think it is, no. I don't think so. Really?
SMITHI think so.
ALBEEOh, well. Okay.
REHMWell, do you agree with Molly, that that is the kind of work you intend to do and succeed in doing, taking us to the deepest parts and displaying them?
ALBEEWell, I can't talk objectively about my own work, but I think the people who go to the theatre, and considering the prices of theatre, especially in New York. You spend $120 and they go to the theatre and they want nothing to happen to them (laugh). They don't want to be upset, they don't want to be educated, they don't want to be informed about anything, they just want to go and waste their time, I don't understand what kind of theatre that is and I like to be provocative, I suppose. I like to shake people up a little bit. You know, if you're going to spend all that money, something should happen to you.
REHMAbsolutely. And you heard Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winner Tracy Letts as George, Tony Award nominee Amy Morton as Martha. It also stars Carrie Coon as Honey and Madison Dirks as Dick. That was a powerful excerpt, I must say. Do join us, 800-433-8850. Edward Albee, for you, having this retrospective, what's it like to see all of those plays?
ALBEEWell, I've been -- I'm very grateful that the Arena Stage has been doing either performances or stage readings of almost all of my work and is for the next few weeks. It's a little puzzling. My God, did he do all that? And you think, why isn't there more? And no, it's very exciting and gratifying for it to happen because usually the only stuff that gets done is your latest commercial success and people just ignore the stuff that's really good that you've written before that was critically unpopular, but is probably better than a lot of the really popular stuff.
ALBEEAnd so this way, people get to see the whole thing and judge you not on your most recent commercial success, but on what you've been up to for the past 50 years. That's nice.
REHMBut how do you judge yourself?
ALBEEHow did I what?
REHMHow do you judge yourself?
ALBEEI keep hoping I'm getting better (laugh). I think I'm a pretty interesting playwright. I don't think I waste people's time 'cause I don't think art should go around being decorative and wasting your time. I think maybe I can upset a few people and maybe change the nature of theatre a little bit.
REHMDo you ever go back and think, I wish I had written it this way instead of this way.
ALBEEYeah, but I don't go around and revise something that I've done 20 years ago...
ALBEE...because I'm not the same person. I don't want anybody else rewriting my texts, why should I let me do it 20 years after I've written a play?
REHMEdward Albee, his Edward Albee Festival is at the Arena Stage here in Washington. He's an American playwright who's best known for, "The Zoo Story," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "A Delicate Balance" and many more. Molly Smith, artistic director of Arena Stage. Short break, right back.
REHMAnd I understand that today is Molly Smith's birthday, so the two of you coming here on this day, we're just delighted to wish you both...
ALBEEHappy birthday, Molly.
SMITHHappy birthday, Edward.
REHMI like it.
SMITHI can't think of anyplace I'd rather be than with you on my birthday.
ALBEEAren't you sweet?
REHMHow lovely. Tell me about, "Three Tall Women," which is said to be one of your most personal plays.
ALBEEIt may be most personal because it is about -- I was an orphan and I was adopted into a wealthy theatrical management family. We never got along particularly well. They gave me a great education in private schools and I'm eternally grateful that I ended up being educated in a way that helped me, you know, become a -- I think a three-dimensional human being, but we didn't get along particularly well. And...
REHMHow old were you when you were adopted?
ALBEETwo weeks old.
REHMTwo weeks old.
ALBEEI had nothing to say about it.
REHMI see. Quite right. Who were they?
ALBEEThe Keith Albee Vaudeville Circuit, back in the old days, ran 350 vaudeville theaters around the United States and hired all of the vaudeville performers and gave them 50-week contracts. It was a very good organization and they had theaters all over the United States. And a man named Joe Kennedy bought it all out about 1927 and so the whole family retired and just sat around being rich.
REHMWhoa. And your father left?
REHMWell, my -- the adopted father, he retired. And -- well, they were perfectly nice people. They kept saddle horses and, you know, the wasp rich life and it was all of that. And I never felt that I belonged there.
REHMWhat does that mean?
ALBEEWell, I felt that this -- I had an intuitive sense that this environment wasn’t mine.
REHMDid you know you were adopted?
ALBEEI knew I was adopted, but...
REHMYou knew that.
ALBEE...in the days when I was adopted, you weren't allowed to ever know who your natural parents were, so I've never been able to find out where I came from. You know, I'm sort of interested to know where I got my bizarre mind from, but I'll never find out. Anyway, after my adoptive mother died -- we'd made up, we left rather unpleasantly with each other, but we made up and she got ill and I was a dutiful son. And I decided to write a play about her after she died. Didn't want to do it before she died and I didn't want her to have any say in what I wrote about her and it was called, "Three Tall Women." And it was about her life and the way she lived it and the way she reacted to growing old and ill.
ALBEEAnd it wasn't a revenge play. Some people said, as a matter of fact, who knew her well, said I was too nice about her afterwards. But it was a play about this woman split into three parts, herself as young, herself as middle age and herself as old...
REHMWhat was she...
ALBEE...played by three separate performers.
REHMWhat was she like in real life?
ALBEEIn my life, she was dominating, insisting that everything she valued was the way everything should be and didn't want to broke in to interference. It made communication a little difficult sometimes.
REHMWas she loving?
ALBEEI don't think she knew quite how to be.
ALBEEI think that was it. It was...
REHMBut she and your father wanted a child.
ALBEEThe patriarch of the family, old E. F. Albee, decided he wanted a grandson, so I turned up (laugh).
REHMBut you never felt as though you quite fit.
ALBEENo, I didn't.
REHMSo you took to writing...
ALBEEListen, if I'd felt that I belonged, I would've turned out like them.
REHMExactly. You would've...
ALBEEThat wouldn't have made me very happy.
REHM...you wouldn't have been a writer.
ALBEEYeah, of course not, never.
REHMIsn't that interesting? Did you know all of this about Edward Albee, Molly?
SMITHI believe I know most of it. And what's really fascinating to me is how one becomes a writer. How, you know, if this was a spur to be a writer.
REHMBut there's the basic question about how one becomes who...
REHM...one will become.
ALBEEHow one becomes who one is, really, yes.
REHMExactly. And you found the way. You left at 20, you moved to Greenwich Village. What did you do there?
ALBEEI had odd jobs for about eight years. I educated myself in all of the arts because in those days, in the late '40s and early '50s, Greenwich Village was the hotbed and the center of all of the experimental arts, of painting, of music, of writing, of theatre. It was the headquarters of all of the avant-garde arts in the United States, so I just continued my -- having gotten thrown out of college in my sophomore year (laugh), I just went back to college. It was called The Arts in Greenwich Village. It was wonderful.
REHMSo you became a self-educated man.
ALBEEBasically. I continued -- yes, basically.
REHMWhich college did you go to?
ALBEEI went to Trinity College in Hartford for a year and a half. I got thrown out because they ran the joint and they wanted me to take certain courses that I didn't think I needed (laugh). And they wouldn't let me take the ones I wanted to take.
ALBEEThey were right.
REHMThey were right.
REHMBut you were right as well that you needed the experiential learning.
ALBEEYeah, the education is supposed to be to educate the individual, not according to some plan.
REHMYou are gay...
REHM...and you have made...
ALBEEHate the term, but yes.
REHMYou -- I know...
ALBEEIt sounds so frivolous.
REHMYou've made a distinction between being a gay writer and a writer who is gay.
REHMWhat's the difference?
ALBEEI felt no need, because I happen to be gay -- I feel no need to write only about gay people and gay subjects because we are such a small portion of civilization. We don't (word?) a lot. Many, many of the creative people in the world -- more than the -- you would imagine are and have been gay. But I don't believe in any kind of parochialism and so I write about whoever I need to write about. And I don't know, do I write about things from the point of view of a gay person? I'm not sure that I do. I think being gay gives me access to both sexes in a way somebody else might not have.
REHMI'm thinking about, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and wondering where the depiction of those characters came from.
ALBEEProbably a little bit from my own childhood environment, a little bit from people I observed. And also, if you're a writer, you invent stuff. That's what you're supposed to do. You invent people who should be realer than real people.
REHMBut you've seen that kind of behavior.
REHMYou've seen that kind of behavior.
ALBEEOh, yeah, sure, but also, I take that as a jumping off place to invent real people who behave in a similar fashion.
REHMYou know, Molly Smith, the phrase brutally honest comes up again and again in terms of Edward Albee's writing. What does that phrase mean to you?
SMITHBrutally honest means to me a fearlessness of going into who we actually are as opposed to who we would like to be or who we pretend we are. And I think that that's one of Edward's greatest gifts, is the ability to be brutally honest and show us ourselves in the middle of the theatre. I mean, it really is about the theatre as a community event, the theatre as a place where we grapple with the greatest and deepest parts of ourselves. And I think he does that again and again, whether it's in, "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" Whether it is in, "The Zoo Story," whether it is in, "A Delicate Balance," "Me, Myself and I," he consistently takes us to places that we may not want to go. And yet when we're there, our own ideas about ourselves becomes exposed.
ALBEEThat's my job.
REHMThat's your job and that's your gift. One of those plays may mean a great deal to you. Which would you say it is?
ALBEEOf the 30? I'm not unhappy that I wrote any of them. I think they're all relatively useful, in other words, that they hold a mirror up to us and say, look, this is who you are. If you don't like what you see, don't ignore what you see, change. You know, if you think that things would be better if you were different, then learn -- learn -- all plays -- if they're -- and all art, if it's any good, teaches us more about who we are and how we respond to our environment and our culture.
REHMHow do those plays affect you internally? After you finished writing, "Virginia Woolf," for example?
ALBEEWell, after I finished writing a play, I look at it and I say, really, was that what was going on in your mind? Wow. Hey, maybe this will be helpful, maybe this will be useful. 'Cause I think all art should be useful. Merely decorative is not enough, not safe and decorative. Is this useful? Can anybody learn anything from this? And is it skillfully enough done so the people won't realize that they're learning anything (laugh) ?
REHMWhen I write, I learn about myself from what I've written. Do you?
ALBEEYou know, it's nice to be able to spend your life doing one of the few things you can do with any competence and enjoy doing it (laugh). I really love being a writer. I love writing.
REHMAnd do you learn about yourself as you write?
ALBEEYes, but sometimes I learn some things that I'm not terribly happy with...
ALBEE...but I go right on.
ALBEEOh, you know, the tendency to want to slow down, the tendency to lie to yourself, the tendency to be not as really on target as you might be, the desire to be accepted and therefore being safe. You have to resist all of those temptations.
REHMEdward Albee, his plays are being featured at the Edward Albee Festival at Arena Stage in Washington. Molly Smith is the artistic director of Arena Stage. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have many callers who'd like to speak with you, so let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Oakridge, Tenn. Good morning, Joe, you're on the air.
JOEOh, good morning. I just wanted to say to Mr. Albee, I think he's one of the greatest American dramatists ever and very much inspired me to write when I was very young. And thank you, thank you for the many years of great work.
ALBEEYou're more than welcome.
REHMYou have really championed writers. You've tried to help young writers and clearly, that's one you've inspired.
ALBEEWell, if you don't do that, you're just being selfish. It's your responsibility as a writer to help other -- to help younger writers have the opportunity to practice their craft, maybe even more easily than you were able to.
REHMHow do you help them?
ALBEEI teach at a university. I've been teaching for 20 years at the University of Houston. I teach young playwrights. I go around and I lecture to colleges to young writers. I talk about the arts and the importance of the arts in our culture and our society and bemoan the fact that we don't teach the arts in our schools anywhere nearly as much as we should.
REHMYou must be just beside yourself hearing about the lack of education to the arts, how it's being dismissed, diminished throughout the school system.
ALBEEWell, you know, if we don't educate kids in the arts and only in how to make money and how to succeed in business, we're going to have a society of highly educated barbarians.
REHMMaybe we are on the road. Let's go...
ALBEESometimes I fear we are.
REHM...let's go to Arcadia, Fla. Good morning, Carla.
CARLAGood morning. I had the privilege of hearing Edward Albee lecture in Naples a few years ago and I really enjoyed it, of course. And I think that his plays are -- for me, they're boundary breaking. And I just wondered if he would consider writing a play to end the culture of celebrity in America. It would be doing a great public service. And also, if he could comment about his friendship with Louis Nevelson.
ALBEEWell, let me tell you about -- I was at a reading of one of my plays at the Arena Stage yesterday afternoon, a play called, "The Man Who Had Three Arms," which is a play about celebrity in the United States, a man who becomes the most famous person in the world because he has grown a third arm out of the center of his back. And it's an examination of the falsity of most celebrity in the United States. So I wrote that one and that was despised by the critics because it was in part about them. And so it's very, very seldom performed, which is too bad. I did write a play about my dear friend Louise Nevelson, a, because I thought she was a first rate sculpture and also because she was one of the most fascinating boundary breaking women I've ever known in my life.
REHMBoundary breaking in what sense?
ALBEEWell, because if you're a female artist in the United States, especially back in the '30s and the '40s when she was starting out, you weren't welcomed in the art world. Women really weren't welcomed and they had to fight. Women still have it tough in painting and sculpture. Their work doesn't sell for more than half of what the male artist does. They're not given the same kind of museum shows.
REHMWhy do you think that is?
ALBEEBecause women are supposed to stay home and have babies.
REHMYou think that's still the overriding sentiment.
REHMUnfortunately is right. Molly, would you agree?
SMITHWell, I would say that during my lifetime -- I'm 59 today -- but I've watched women keep rising up, up, up, but I would say that women still have not risen as far as we need to. I still think that there are more glass ceilings to break but fortunately, we have a lot of little stiletto heels.
REHMMolly Smith is the artistic director of Arena Stage here in Washington, which is performing the Edward Albee Festival. And short break. We'll be right back.
REHMIf you've just joined us, playwright Edward Albee is here with Molly Smith. She's the artistic director of Arena Stage here in Washington, which is putting on an Edward Albee festival between now and April 24, where his plays are being presented in full. Some our being read by actors, but it's totally complete enjoyment. Do join us. We'll go back to the phones to Boston, Mass. Good morning, Michael, you're on the air.
MICHAELYes, Mr. Albee.
MICHAELHi. I wanted to ask you a question about, "Virginia Woolf."
MICHAELAnd the book, in the play and it seems to me, a form of impotence -- I mean, it's obvious that's its impotence, but the...
MICHAELWell, it’s the child that they refer to that they never have is paralleled by the book that's never written by George, so I wondered if I were right about that, if the impotence that you might be referring to is something to do with more about cultural and artistic impotence in the United States or is it something else or am I completely off-base?
ALBEENo, I sure hope you're right (laugh). Yes. No, the reason that they had to invent a child was because they physically could not have one. That is not impotence, that is something else. Yes, the cultural impotence, of course.
REHMThanks for calling, Michael. And by the way, Mr. Albee's name is pronounced as though there are two L's when there is, in fact, only one. It's Edward Albee. I hope that settles it.
ALBEEThank you, dear.
REHMLet's go to Jonesboro, Ark. Good morning, Lisa.
LISAGood morning. This has been such a treat to get to sort of hear some of the behind the scenes stuff of what's going on and I had a question about, "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" It's such a fantastically complicated show and I teach theatre on the university level and I find that a lot of times, my students seem to be very single-minded about it and they think it's very -- they take it very literally and think it's literally just about the idea of bestiality and they're always delightfully surprised when we talk about it, you know, sort of extending a little bit more and I was wondering if that had been your experience in terms of the reception of that play?
ALBEENo two people see the same play and this play, "The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?" I've always had people walk out of.
ALBEEAlways. Every performance, somebody's walking out of it because...
REHMWhy do you think that is?
ALBEEWell, because some people are deeply offended to think that a person could fall in love with another animal (laugh) and -- but the play is not about bestiality. It's about -- the fact is about the nature of love and should there be any limitations on it, basically.
REHMDoes that answer it, Lisa?
LISAIt does, it does. And I think if people are walking out of your show, that probably means you're doing something right.
ALBEEI think I am, thank you.
REHMAll right, thanks for calling. Let's go now to Austin, Texas, where John has a question about, "Tiny Alice." Go right ahead, John.
JOHNThank you. Yes, I've been a fan of Mr. Albee for many years and have been especially fascinated by his play, "Tiny Alice." I recall at the time it was quite controversial and met with pretty much universal incomprehension and even the principle actors...
ALBEEThat's so-called theatre criticism.
JOHN(laugh) I guess that's pretty standard. But John Gielgud, who was the star of the show, said in his memoir he didn't understand it at all.
ALBEEWell, John said that about every play he was in.
JOHN(laugh) I guess my question to you, sir, is do you think that performers need to understand what they're doing on the stage in order to be effective?
ALBEEThey don't need to understand the implications or the metaphors of what they're doing, but they do have to understand the characters that they're playing. And John, penetrated deeply into every character that he's ever played and I've seen him on stage, I saw him on stage a lot. And he gave me the impression when he was playing Brother Julian in, "Tiny Alice," he gave me the impression that he was that person, that he was that character.
REHMThere is no greater achievement, truly. All right. To Walter, who's here in Washington, D.C. Good morning, you're on the air.
WALTERYes. Mr. Albee, I wanted to know a little bit more about your experiences at Trinity College. My wife and I are members of the class of '74 and in fact, that was the very first class that went co-ed and I was told by several upperclassmen there were several features of life on campus that were abruptly abolished because women were now members of the student body. So -- like for example, one question I have for you, were you ever forced to wear a beanie during your freshmen year?
ALBEENo, I missed the beanie. I was young enough and foolish enough that I considered becoming a fraternity member, but then I discovered that the fraternity that I thought I might join had a number of limitations as to their membership. They did not permit blacks, they did not permit Jews and they did not permit gays.
ALBEEAnd so I decided not to become a fraternity member.
WALTERWell, that's interesting, you see, I'm of African-American heritage and I was a subject of the Affirmative Action Program that was at Trinity, since Trinity was at an active supporter of this program...
ALBEEYes, good for you.
WALTER...and so I mean, Trinity was one of the greatest experience of my life and I now work at the Library of Congress with my wife, but we always remembered that you were the most famous dropout from Trinity.
ALBEEYou know what was funny about that? Yeah, they threw me out in the middle of my sophomore year, then 15 years later, after I'd begun to make something of a reputation for myself, they wrote me a nice letter saying they wanted to give me an honorary degree (laugh).
REHMHow about that? Did you go to...
ALBEENo, I turned them down. I said...
ALBEE...you know, you were right to throw me out. But then 10 years later, they sent another letter saying, please and I said, all right.
REHMAnd you did?
ALBEEAnd I took it, yeah.
REHMCongratulations. Let me ask you about the film production of, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" I gather you had other people in mind for those roles?
ALBEEWell, when they said -- when Warner Brothers said they wanted to make a film of my play, I was sort of interested in who they planned to put in it, so I went out to Los Angeles and had a meeting with Jack Warner, who ran Warner Brothers. And I said, who are you putting in it? 'Cause this will determine whether I let you have it. And he said, oh, well, I'm buying it for Betty Davis and James Mason. And I said, wow, that's a wonderful idea. They're exactly the right age, they'll both be great in the roles. Yes. I'll let you have the film rights. And so I did that, but I should have known that a verbal agreement is not worth the paper it's not written on.
REHMAnd that was it, it was a verbal agreement?
ALBEEOf course, yes. Well, I didn't know they were lying to me.
REHMHow did you feel about the actors who finally played?
ALBEEWell, I went to see the film and I thought that both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton did wonderful acting jobs. I was confused a little bit because Martha is meant to be 52 and Elizabeth was 32 and she's meant to be six years older than her husband, George, and she was 20 years younger than her husband. I thought there were a couple little weird things.
ALBEEWeird things going on there, but Mike Nichols did not do anything terrible to my text. He directed what I had written and directed it beautifully and I thought it was a pretty good movie.
REHMMe too, me too. All right. To Richard in Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, you're on the air.
RICHARDYes, this is fascinating and I wanted to call and indicate that in 1971, when I graduated from Brown University, I was a theatre arts major and we did in that year an all-male production of, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" And...
ALBEEI wonder how you got away with that? I wouldn't have allowed it.
RICHARDWell, you probably wouldn't have, but it was a huge...
ALBEE'Cause, you know, I know the difference between men and women.
RICHARDIt was a great production and we kept very true to text...
ALBEEDid you guys do it with the female's roles in drag?
ALBEEOr did you do it as two gay couples?
RICHARDWe did it as males.
ALBEETwo gay couples?
ALBEESee I wouldn't have let you do that because those guys weren't gay.
RICHARDWe all -- the only script change we did was we changed -- I played the part of Martha and we used my name, so it was Richard and...
ALBEEAll you did was change a heterosexual female into a male gay.
REHMYou wouldn't have liked that?
ALBEEWell, it doesn't strike me as being the same thing.
REHMYeah, absolutely. Well, Richard, you've heard from the source. Thanks for...
ALBEEI hope you had fun, though.
REHMYeah. Did you?
RICHARDWell, it was a -- we had -- people packed the house night after night...
ALBEEI bet you did.
RICHARDPeople from all up and down the East Coast.
REHMAll right, sir, thanks for calling. Let's go to Piqua, Ohio. Good morning, David.
DAVIDGood morning, Diane, Mr. Albee.
DAVIDI was 18 years old in 1986 when I first read, "A Delicate Balance." My father and I weren't speaking and he decided that he would read it as well and we talked about the play and how wonderful it was and Mr. Albee, you helped me and my dad have something to talk about.
ALBEEWell, I'm glad of that. You know, I keep saying that theatre should be useful and if it does bring people into greater contact with each other, whether it's friendly contact or not, it doesn't matter. As long as people are put into greater contact with each other, then the play has accomplished something useful, which is what I keep saying the arts must do.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, David. To Rachel, in Norwich, Conn. Good morning, you're on the air.
RACHELGood morning, this is thrilling to get to say happy birthday to Molly and Edward.
RACHELAnd I'm just curious if there's any contemporary playwrights or works you've seen that have excited you and if you feel inspired or hopeful for the state of theatre besides the egregious ticket prices and whatnot and as an early birthday present to me, any advice you would give to a burgeoning writer?
ALBEEWell, as a playwright, let me answer that first. Let me put Molly on for that. There are many problems in American theatre. The awful, awful ticket prices, the fact that so many of our regional theatres have decided -- not the Arena Stage, but so many of the others have decided that an audience should be given what it wants rather than what it should want.
ALBEEBut theatre can accomplish so much and there is no paucity, there's no lack of first-rate young playwrights. I just wish we had first-rate minds, which were deciding which plays were going to be done. We have more than enough first-rate young playwrights, we have no lack there, no lack at all. It's the opportunities which are lacking.
SMITHI would completely agree. We have a number of writers that I think are influential voices, whether it's Katori Hall with her new play, "The Mountaintop," Marcus Gardley, "Every Tongue Confess," Amy Freed, "You Narrow," Lisa Crone with all of her works, Charles Randolph-Wright. I mean, we have fantastic writers. Lynn Nottage, who just wrote the brilliant "Ruined."
ALBEEWill Eno is a great young writer.
SMITHWill Eno is an excellent writer. I mean, we are actually in a great moment of abundance with our American writers.
REHMMolly Smith, she's the artistic director of Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." The problem, as Mr. Albee has said, is the mounting of such productions. They've become so expensive, theatre's angels not willing to take chances, how do you get around that? You go back to the geniuses of -- the Edward Albee's.
SMITHI think it's important to both. At Arena, we work on past, present and future.
SMITHAs far as American writers, that's our focus. Production, presentation, development and study and in the development and study part of what we do at Arena, we've brought on five writers that each have a three-year contract with Arena Stage, with the full salary for that three-year period of time. Where they are able to write whatever they want to write.
SMITHWhether it's for us or for other theatre companies and we will ensure that we'll produce at least one of their plays within three years.
ALBEEThere's one other thing that has to be done. We have to go back to educating school children in the arts.
ALBEEWe've given up that. And unless you are inventing a responsible and eager and willing young audience for the serious part of the arts by education, there's no point in doing anything.
SMITHThere's another piece to that, too, which I think goes back to what Edward was saying earlier about what's our world going to be if people are only really educated in finance. The truth is, America is an imaginative world. If we are teaching people to open their imaginations and the imaginative power of who we are as American people only can come through the arts. And so to see the consistent slashing of arts programming at the level of school, we're cutting off ideas.
REHMAnd carrying on with that to see the constant education toward making money as opposed to developing imagination is the discouraging aspect of where we've seen headed?
ALBEEIt's especially discouraging when you live in a democracy where anything good is possible if only we have the courage to deal with it.
REHMAnd people, do you see theatre going, increasing or decreasing, Molly?
SMITHI actually see theatre increasing right now. When the non-profit theatre movement started, and Arena was one of the pioneers of that 60 years ago, there were very few theatres that were not for profits. Now there's 1,900 around the country.
SMITHSome are tiny and some are large, but what I am seeing is if we don't move into the kind of imagination that we're talking about, then we're in trouble as a society.
REHMMolly Smith, she's the artistic director of Arena Stage in Washington. It's been my privilege to talk to you and to you, Edward Albee, fantastic playwright and now here in Washington because of this wonderful festival at the Arena Stage. Thank you for being here this morning.
ALBEEAnd thank you.
SMITHThank you, Diane.
REHMMy pleasure. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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