Today's Monday Mourning is playwright Edward Albee, 1928-2016. I like what he said about art:
"All art should be useful. If it's merely decorative, it's a waste of time. You know, 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."
His obituary below is from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, who challenged theatrical convention in masterworks such as “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “A Delicate Balance,” died Friday, his personal assistant said. He was 88.
He died at his home in Montauk, east of New York, assistant Jackob Holder said. No cause of death was immediately given, although he had suffered from diabetes. With the deaths of Arthur Miller and Pittsburgh native August Wilson in 2005, he was arguably America’s greatest living playwright.
Several years ago, before undergoing extensive surgery, Mr. Albee penned the following note to be issued at the time of his death: “To all of you who have made my being alive so wonderful, so exciting and so full, my thanks and all my love.”
Mr. Albee was proclaimed the playwright of his generation after his blistering “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opened on Broadway in 1962. The Tony-winning play, still widely considered his finest, was made into an award-winning 1966 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
The play’s sharp-tongued humor and dark themes were the hallmarks of Mr. Albee’s style. In more than 30 plays, he skewered such mainstays of American culture as marriage, child-rearing, religion and upper-class comforts.
“If you have no wounds, how can you know you’re alive?” a character asks in Mr. Albee’s 1996 “The Play About the Baby.”
“It’s just a quirk of the brain that makes one a playwright,” Mr. Albee said in 2008. “I have the same experiences that everybody else does, but ... I feel the need to translate a lot of what happens to me, a lot of what I think, into a play.”
Mr. Albee challenged audiences to question their assumptions about society and about theater itself.
“Plays are acts of protest meant to change people,” he once told The Star Tribune of Minneapolis.
He did it with humor and a sense of linguistic delight, using withering barbs and word play to hint at deeper meaning.
His unconventional style won him great acclaim but also led to a nearly 20-year drought of critical and commercial recognition before his 1994 play, “Three Tall Women,” garnered his third Pulitzer Prize. His other Pulitzers were for “A Delicate Balance” (1967) and “Seascape” (1975).
Many of his productions in the years after “Seascape” were savaged by the press as inconsequential trickery, a shadow of his former works. But after “Three Tall Women,” a play he called an “exorcising of demons,” he had several major productions, including “The Play About the Baby” and “The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?” —which won him his second Tony for best play in 2002.
Many of his works had things in common: domestic rancor inflamed by booze, a sense of unknown anxiety, a lost child who creates marital friction and precise but flailing language that alternates between comic and profound.
In interviews, Mr. Albee recoiled at the idea of drawing parallels between his works or between his cynical outlook and his unhappy childhood.
“Each play of mine has a distinctive story to tell,” he told The Santa Fe New Mexican in 2001. “What unites them all is that I’m trying to make people more aware of whether they’re living their lives fully or not.”
Mr. Albee was born in 1928 and was adopted by a wealthy suburban New York couple. His father, Reed Albee, ran the Keith-Albee chain of vaudeville theaters; his mother, Frances Albee, was a socialite and a commanding presence who kept a hold on him for much of his life.
Estranged from his parents, Mr. Albee moved to Greenwich Village and worked as a messenger for Western Union before gaining notice with “The Zoo Story,” a one-act play about two strangers meeting on a bench in Central Park. Written in 1958, it was first produced in Berlin, translated into German.
With “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and 1964’s “Tiny Alice,” he shook up a Broadway that had been dominated by Tennessee Williams, Mr. Miller and their intellectual disciples.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” presents an all-night drinking bout in which a middle-age professor and his wife verbally spar and unravel their illusions during a visit by a younger couple. It won five Tonys.
Mr. Albee also directed the American premieres of many of his own plays.
Mr. Albee was honored by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1996 for his lifetime contributions. Then-President Bill Clinton praised him as a man who inspired a generation of American dramatists. Mr. Clinton also awarded Mr. Albee a National Medal of the Arts that year.
Into his 70s, Mr. Albee continued to write provocative and unconventional plays. In “The Goat or Who is Sylvia?” the main character falls in love with a goat.
In 2001, Mr. Albee said: “I don’t like the idea of getting older and older because there’s meant to be a time when that has to stop.
“Dying strikes me as being a great waste of time.”