Monday, April 04, 2011

Edward Albee: A Singular Journey
Edward Albee: A Singular Journey 

"Like many artists, he is a figure of contradictions." (from the Prologue)

Mel Gussow's abilities as a journalist and his personal friendship with Edward Albee allow him to make this the definitive biography of a great American playwright. I came to read this as I prepared for attending a performance of The Goat or Who is Sylvia?. The theater company had recommended this as the best biography they had found.

Chronicling the life of someone who has become an icon of the American theater is difficult, but Mel Gussow is able to combine the personal, literary, and show business details in a dramatic narrative that does justice to Edward Albee. I was intrigued to discover that among Albee's partners was one of my other favorite playwrights, Terence McNally, but the biography highlights all of Albee's relationships and the importance of each to him and his friends. The difficulties Albee encountered as an adopted child were keen and exacerbated by parents who combined a daunting distance from their son with an attitude that was colder than most New England winters.

His precocity and early development of an inscrutable individuality did not serve him well in the several schools that he more visited than occupied in his youth and it took the combination of Greenwich Village in the fifties and some tentative literary efforts with friends including William Flanagan and McNally among others to bring him to the point of his first success, The Zoo Story. He never looked back and within what would be an amazingly short time for a dramatist of lesser genius he was conquering Broadway with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The rest of the story includes successful dramas (A Delicate Balance, Three Tall Women and others);  yet there was not always the appreciation his work warranted or he deserved. Published in 1999, Gussow's biography does not include the past decade and  Albee's most recent successes as he has achieved the status of America's greatest living playwright, but it provides a rich and rewarding panorama of Albee's ascent to the apex of American literature.

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