Saturday, April 12, 2008

How to watch plays, according to Edward Albee

“Without peer among American playwrights” is how Ben Brantley, chief drama critic of the New York Times, calls Edward Albee. Mr. Albee claimed his place in the theater pantheon with the sensational domestic drama Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. He's also received three Pulitzer prizes for the plays Seascape, A Delicate Balance and Three Tall Women.

In a brief interview with Jeff Lunden of National Public Radio on his 80th birthday, Mr. Albee talked about art and his work. His wise words, especially on the value of art in our lives, are worth etching in granite.

How to watch plays
“Pretend you're at the first play you've ever seen--have that experience--and I think 'what the play is about' will reveal itself quite readily.”

What his plays 'are about'
“I tend to become uncooperative--and occasionally downright hostile--when people ask me what my plays 'are about.' Especially the new ones.

“My plays are infrequently opaque, only occasionally complicated (though now and then complex) and can be enjoyed to their full, unless you bring to the theatre with you the baggage of predetermination--'a play must go like this!'

“You know, if anybody wants me to say it, in one sentence, what my plays are about, they're about the nature of identity. Who we are, how we permit ourselves to be viewed, how we permit ourselves to view ourselves, how we practice identity or lack of identity.”

What art should be
“All art should be useful. If it's merely decorative, it's a waste of time.

“If you're going to spend a couple of hours of your life listening to string quartets or being at plays or going to a museum and looking at paintings, something should happen to you.

“You should be changed. But most people don't want to be changed. They want to have an 'escapist' entertainment. The whole notion that that which is entertaining must be empty is preposterous.”

PLUS: Read 'em and reap--Rep mainstay Rem Zamora collects all Altar Boyz raves here. Theater professor Joey Ting sounds a contrary note here. Young actor JJ Ignacio discusses drama criticism, and why he thinks he won't make a good reviewer/critic, here. Ralph Pena, artistic director of the acclaimed New York-based Ma-Yi Theater Company, appraises Patti Lupone and the latest Gypsy here. (The verdict: “Broadway has been waiting patiently for this marriage. It’s here, and it’s a happy, happy one.” Go to the full review.)

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