Archive for October 3rd, 2016

How Thornton Wilder’s “tough love” made a playwright of Edward Albee

Monday, October 3rd, 2016
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Farewell to one of America’s greatest playwrights.

Playwright Edward Albee died on September 16. He was 88. I wrote nothing about it, because it’s been too long since I read Albee, the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes, or saw any of his plays performed. I could think of nothing new to bring to the subject.

Fortunately, playwright and filmmaker Ian MacAllister-McDonald could. In the most recent issue of the Los Angeles Review of Books, he describes meeting Albee on a plane from New York to Los Angeles in fall 2006 when he was 21 years old. He was new to the theater world, and stopped Albee as he walked down the aisle to stretch his legs. “We talked about Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Zoo Story (the only two plays of his that I’d read at the time) and he stood there, patiently answering my questions,” he said.

Thornton_Wilder

Good advice.

“A few days later, we ended up getting lunch together and continued our conversation. At some point I asked him what other playwrights I should be reading, and Albee furrowed his brow and said, pragmatically, ‘Read all of Chekhov. Start there.’”

You can read the whole thing online at the LARB, but here’s my favorite bit, from a speech Albee gave five years ago at the MacDowell writer’s colony in New Hampshire:

He was funny and gracious, and told a story about meeting Thornton Wilder, when Albee was young poet, visiting a friend at the MacDowell. Albee, a fan, ran up to Wilder and shoved a bunch of poems into his hands and ran away. Later that night, Wilder found him and invited him to come sit by a pond so that they could discuss the work. The older writer took out a bottle of wine, poured them both a glass, and talked through each of the poems. And each time he finished talking about a poem, he would gently take the sheet of paper it was printed on and toss it out onto the water. When the discussion was over, the pond had all of Edward’s poems out floating on it, and Wilder turned to Edward and said, “Have you considered playwriting?”

Read “Edward Albee: Fragments” here.