INCONVERSATION

Interview or Who’s Afraid of Mr. Albee?

Interview,
or
Who’s Afraid of Mr. Albee?

a play in one scene

by
Eric Wallach

Based on an interview with Edward Albee by Eric Wallach at Mr. Albee’s Tribeca loft in New York City on March 15, 2005.

“No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.”
- E. B. White, Here is New York

THE PLAYERS:

MR. ALBEE

A playwright who has just turned 77. He’s dressed in muted earth tones, has a moustache and glasses. Although he is moving past middle age, his dress and his manner would suggest a man younger.

INTERVIEWER

A director who has just turned 33. He is smartly dressed with a style of his own, a beard and glasses.

THE SCENE

Mr. Albee’s large Tribeca loft, full of art and African furniture. A leather couch sits off center with a black swivel chair to its left with a large square dark wooden table in front of both. Sunlight pours in through the windows behind our scene.

(The curtain rises on Mr. Albee’s loft. The INTERVIEWER is sitting on the couch looking over his notes. He stops reading, cleans his glasses, goes back to reading. MR. ALBEE enters.)

MR. ALBEE
Good morning.

INTERVIEWER
(He gets up and shakes hands with MR. ALBEE) Good morning. (Sitting down again, he sets up his minidisk recorder and microphone between them) How, uh, how are you today?

MR. ALBEE
(Sitting down with a tall glass of iced coffee) Just fine, nothing new.

INTERVIEWER
No news?

MR. ALBEE
No.

INTERVIEWER
I brought something for you. (He presents a white box from a brown paper bag) To say thank you with a little happy 77th birthday thrown in.

MR. ALBEE
Well, thank you.

INTERVIEWER
Some dried cranberries, apricots and strawberries.

MR. ALBEE
I’ll open it later. Would you like some water?

INTERVIEWER
No thanks. (Knowing full well Mr. Albee hasn’t had a drink in thirty years) You don’t do any heavy drinking in the morning?

MR. ALBEE
(Glaring) What?

INTERVIEWER
Do I remember correctly?

MR. ALBEE
I haven’t had a drink in thirty years.

INTERVIEWER
That’s right. (Pause) Did you drink while you wrote Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

MR. ALBEE
(Upset, shakes his head) Now why go there? Drinking. Really?!

INTERVIEWER
(Trying) I just, I just wanted to know whether you’ve witnessed any drunken rehearsals of the play?

MR. ALBEE
Absolutely not, never. No writer, no director, no actor can do their work while drunk. You can’t do it. You’ve got to be thinking all the time.

INTERVIEWER
(Looking around) You have no stereo down here?

MR. ALBEE
Why?

INTERVIEWER
I was hoping to hear some Bach. I have no Bach in my music collection. And, uh, in one of your hundreds of interviews you said that you advise your playwrighting students that they should listen to a Bach fugue every morning. What’s Bach got?

MR. ALBEE (Overlapping)
I never said every morning. I said that a writer should listen to a fugue before they begin their writing. To clear up the mind. (With the slightest of grins) You should try it.

INTERVIEWER
(Repositioning the microphone) I will. (Silence) It was great seeing you last Saturday night at your first New York performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. From where I was sitting I could see you in your house right box, legs propped up on a chair in front of you. I never saw you take your eyes off the stage.

MR. ALBEE
Where else should I be looking?

INTERVIEWER
You never once looked at the audience.

MR. ALBEE
I can hear them.

INTERVIEWER
The audience was raucous. The laughter was constant through the first act.

MR. ALBEE
Were you watching them or watching me?

INTERVIEWER
I was watching the play.

MR. ALBEE
(Deep breath) Preview audiences are usually younger, they have more energy, they get more involved … they at least haven’t come to the theatre after drinking four martinis.

INTERVIEWER
Yeah. (Pause) Just to let you know, I’m still working on the screenplay that I began at The Barn in August of 2003. I’m now on Draft Six, Act Two.

MR. ALBEE
Draft six?

INTERVIEWER
The screenplay keeps changing course.

MR. ALBEE
I’d worry about that. You lose your spontaneity. You start trying to make things happen as opposed to letting it come out naturally.

INTERVIEWER
The theatre editor at The Brooklyn Rail suggested that I begin the interview with a brief account of your accomplishments to bring the reader in. (Pause) Um, should I do it or would you like to?

MR. ALBEE
You want me to?! Not me. And I hope you don’t expect me to listen.

INTERVIEWER
It’ll be painless.

MR. ALBEE
(Reluctantly) All right.

INTERVIEWER
(Reading slowly from the page with a smidgen of Howard Cosell inflection) Mr. Albee, your playwrighting career spans almost fifty years, your contributions to the art of theatre include such plays as The Zoo Story, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Delicate Balance, Tiny Alice, Seascape, Three Tall Women and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? - you have peeled back the skin and sucked the marrow of human experience. You are truly one of the greatest dramatists of our time. Maybe, of all time.

MR. ALBEE
(In a low voice) So you say. Sounds nice.

INTERVIEWER
(Probing) How do you deal with your celebrity?

MR. ALBEE
What celebrity? If I stay out of midtown or the theatre no one recognizes me, I can go about my business normally.

INTERVIEWER
You’re very lucky then. (Pause) I was remembering last night, about when we first met some fourteen years ago at San Diego State University, I was remembering some great advice that you gave me that I still hold dear.

MR. ALBEE
What did I say?

INTERVIEWER
You told me to “Fail big.”

MR. ALBEE
Why else would you attempt writing in the first place?

INTERVIEWER
Speaking of failing big, you were a part of a jury that had come to the university for years to watch and criticize the student’s presentations. Your reputation proceeded you. All the students who had witnessed past juries saw work ripped effortlessly to shreds …

MR. ALBEE
I was never mean.

INTERVIEWER
They say it happened every time … and that you were brilliant but cruel.

MR. ALBEE
I was never cruel. (Smiling) Honest and accurate, yes, but never cruel, no.

INTERVIEWER
(Glancing at his notes) I tried to see the connection between you and Antonin Artaud which some academics suggest in books I’ve read. But when I discovered your work I realized very quickly that Artaud is Artaud (Dramatic pause) and Edward Albee is Edward Albee.

MR. ALBEE
That’s the way it should be.

INTERVIEWER
(Checking his list of questions) You first saw Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 43 years ago. Few writers have had the opportunity to see their work develop over so many years, do you feel it resonates today in ways that it didn't when you first wrote it?

MR. ALBEE
It’s the same play.

INTERVIEWER
Yes, but has the audience changed? Back in the 60’s the government was lying and deceiving the people but they weren’t as aware of it as they are now. Right?

MR. ALBEE (Overlapping)
Now people know the truth … but prefer the lies.

INTERVIEWER
You’ve said that Virginia Woolf is about the “failure of the principals of the American Revolution” -- what did you mean by that?

MR. ALBEE
I said that to confuse the academics. But yes, Nick is named after Nikita Khrushchev who was threatening our country at the time. George and Martha are named after the Washingtons. Technology was threatening human expression, art, culture.

INTERVIEWER
Uh huh.

MR. ALBEE
You know Honey’s name isn’t Honey, right? (Pause) That’s just what Nick calls her.

INTERVIEWER
Funny.

MR. ALBEE
And the only way you know his name, is if you read the play.

INTERVIEWER
(Nodding) Oh, no one calls him by his name.

MR. ALBEE
Right.

INTERVIEWER
Why is Honey so wild for violence?

MR. ALBEE
She just is. That’s her nature.

INTERVIEWER
(Shifting gears) You quit your job at Western Union in 1957 and in three weeks you finished your first play, can you describe the man that sat down to the typewriter to write The Zoo Story?

MR. ALBEE
I don’t remember. I think I was still working at Western Union when I wrote it. I quit my job to go to Europe.

INTERVIEWER
For the opening?

MR. ALBEE
That’s right.

INTERVIEWER
You seem to love shocking your audience. In all your plays you find a way to unnerve your audience into the world of the play.

MR. ALBEE
I don’t like terms like that. Shock. I don’t want to shock; I want to involve.

INTERVIEWER
You start The Play About the Baby with two nude actors running around the stage. That’s not shocking?

MR. ALBEE
In the stage directions I wrote, “Nakedly.” Nakedly. (Hidden smile) They weren’t nude, unless they wanted be.

INTERVIEWER
What are your expectations of your audience?

MR. ALBEE
I want them to be sober, listening and they need to have a willingness to suspend their disbelief.

INTERVIEWER
When you direct, you tell your actors, “Do what you want, as long as you get to what I want.” What is it that you want from your actors?

MR. ALBEE
I want real characters and real actors living in a three-dimensional world.

INTERVIEWER
What do you want when you curate art shows?

MR. ALBEE
I want space. Unencumbered. Nothing to pull away the attention of the viewer. Space to look at each work without distraction.

INTERVIEWER
How do you encourage writers to discover their own true voice?

MR. ALBEE
True voice? What’s that? You can’t teach it at all; it’s inherent or not.

INTERVIEWER
Who do you find funny?

MR. ALBEE
I used to find politics funny. Not anymore. It’s real scary these days.

INTERVIEWER
I couldn’t agree more. (Pause) Well, then, who makes you laugh?

MR. ALBEE
(Thinks for a moment) What do you want, a list?

INTERVIEWER
No.

MR. ALBEE
Well, I could say, Henny Youngman, you know Borsht Belt, one-liners. And Myron Cohen, the dialect comedian. He did different voices, different dialects. You should get a record, you’ll like it.

INTERVIEWER
Great. (Pause) In what ways have your plays had a cathartic effect on your life?

MR. ALBEE
It hasn’t really. (Pause) Well, except I suppose exorcising my adopted mother in Three Tall Women. (Grinning) Haven’t thought of her since. So there’s that.

INTERVIEWER
You’ve seen so much theatre over the years, can you tell me about the moments in the theatre that you savor?

MR. ALBEE
I’ve seen a lot of things and I don’t remember the details at all. It’s gone.

INTERVIEWER
Will society ever stop needing new plays?

MR. ALBEE
No. Will they still see plays is another question.

INTERVIEWER
How will theatre adapt itself if it’s going to remain essential?

MR. ALBEE
We’ll always need storytellers. (His cell phone rings) Is that all your questions? Did we get through it? (He gets up and walks away) Hello?

INTERVIEWER
I think so. (He checks through his notes then pauses his minidisk recorder) Oh my god. (He starts panicking, pushing buttons in silence) Wow.

MR. ALBEE
(Into phone) Alright, goodbye. (He walks back slowly and sits) What? You didn’t get it?

INTERVIEWER
(To himself) Unbelievable … ok. So we’re starting back … unbelievable. (Slams his hand down then takes a moment to look at MR. ALBEE) It happens some times that, ah, you can’t record the beautiful things. Some moments can’t be recorded.

MR. ALBEE
Well you remember all my answers to your questions − my evasions.

INTERVIEWER
Yeah? (Doubtful) For the most part. I could get some refreshers though. (He looks over his notes, nodding) Yeah, for the most part. (Bites his lip, pained) Would you mind me writing your lines?

MR. ALBEE
No, go ahead, just send them to me, of course. (Being helpful) In this situation I would type something up and send it to me so that I can correct my mistakes. And yours. (Laughs)

INTERVIEWER
Right. (It’s sinking in) Oh that’s good, that’s great … it’ll be fun. Um, I ah, that’s great, how much more fun is that? I really, last night, I had a revelation about the interview in that, ah, it’s going to be you and me and we’re … it’s going to emerge, like your plays, like you talk about your process. You know? It’s not, what do I want and I’m gonna come in and I’m gonna … (Pounds something out) but that something will emerge, something will have happened.

MR. ALBEE
Well, something happened.

INTERVIEWER
Yeah. You know what’s funny is that The Brooklyn Rail said that they would transcribe the interview for me. Then I would be (Snap) done with the interview and … ha ha, right? It’s gonna be something else.

MR. ALBEE
(Suppressed chuckle) Very funny.

INTERVIEWER
But this is will be a dialogue that I’ll have to try recreate in some way.

MR. ALBEE
Yeah.

INTERVIEWER
And we’ll, and with your help … (Stunned) though, Mr. Albee … I have a very quick deadline.

MR. ALBEE
When’s that?

INTERVIEWER
(Intense) The twenty-second. In a week’s time.

MR. ALBEE
Oh? (Grinning) Hmm.

INTERVIEWER
Which means that I bike home right now and get out as much as I can remember and get it back to you quite quickly. Do you mind?

MR. ALBEE
I don’t mind.

INTERVIEWER
(Sincerely surprised) Really? I appreciate that. It’ll be fun.

MR. ALBEE
E-mail it or fax it, whatever you do.

INTERVIEWER
Do you? What e-mail?

MR. ALBEE
I don’t know what my e-mail number is. The fax is 212.529.1717.

INTERVIEWER
I love it. As much as I checked it and made sure, it always happens to me—it’s not a surprise when technology doesn’t come through.

MR. ALBEE
Of course not, I know.

INTERVIEWER
I love it, because what we had was real. What we were experiencing is real.

MR. ALBEE (Plainly)
And why should anybody else get in on it.

INTERVIEWER
Absolutely.

MR. ALBEE
Exactly.

INTERVIEWER
It’s ours. (Smiles) I really thank you.

MR. ALBEE
You’ve got all those questions, you seem to remember all my answers —my evasions.

INTERVIEWER
I think so. You didn’t evade at all, but you’re a lot funnier than I’m going to be able to … so I hope you’re gonna be able to bring some of the good … (Hatcha, snap, snap)

MR. ALBEE
That’s the trouble; humor very, very, very seldom transcribes.

INTERVIEWER
No, that’s true.

MR. ALBEE
Practically never.

INTERVIEWER
(Annoyed) But an interview, it’s meant to be read just like your plays …

MR. ALBEE
Because comic timing cannot be transcribed onto paper.

INTERVIEWER
(Pause) You try sometimes in your stage directions and things.

MR. ALBEE
Yeah, if I know a certain number of beats before a line, I know when it works and when it doesn’t. But an interview’s comic timing cannot be transcribed.

INTERVIEWER
(Shaking his head) This is going to be really hard. It has been for the past week, reading and re-reading your plays and interviews. Ah. So it continues.

MR. ALBEE
Poor you.

INTERVIEWER
For me. Yeah (Quietly recognizing) poor me.

MR. ALBEE
(Correcting him) Not - for you, poor you.

INTERVIEWER
(Nodding) Yeah, I know, I gotchya. Poor me. (Forcing a smile) It’s been great. (Pause) It’s been great and I will enjoy trying to, uh …

MR. ALBEE
So, is it still broken? (Points at the minidisk recorder)

INTERVIEWER
No, it’s rolling now. Um, I wonder if you would mind if I could just go back through my notes and make sure … What’s funny is that I didn’t keep to any order … (Turning pages)

MR. ALBEE (Quick)
No of course not.

INTERVIEWER
Um, mhmm, uhuh, yeah, you’re going to have to write your own great line; “Don’t get into the drinking!” Oh. (Serious disappointment) What I was so excited about, with the transcribing, is that I could’ve left it just real, what it was. And it could’ve just been an eardrop …

MR. ALBEE
Now you’re gonna have to be literary.

INTERVIEWER
Ugh, it’s the worst!

MR. ALBEE
Oh, we’ll just have to revise six times.

INTERVIEWER
Ugh, I find it a little depressing because I do like what’s real in an interview and somehow we’re going to have to write it. That’s a crap …

MR. ALBEE
Well you’re gonna have to be a playwright.

INTERVIEWER
I find it very hard to be a playwright, Mr. Albee. That’s why I’m not. I’m really a director, ya know? I stopped. The only time and reason I wrote was so I could direct it. I wanted to see something. I’m not a playwright like you, wanting to craft words and characters and moments. I like working rehearsal. I like making things happen on stage.

MR. ALBEE
Well so do I.

INTERVIEWER
Yeah, well I’m sure you do. (Pause) All your moments. (Pause) So … so visceral. (Long pause, he turns through pages) Mmm, wow, mmm. What was your great response to ah, “You’re truly one of the greatest dramatists of our time.”?

MR. ALBEE (Remembering or writing)
I don’t think in those terms.

INTERVIEWER
(Fake laugh, sigh) You had some good ones, ooh. (Takes a breath) All right, that’s the past. Now we’re now. Um, (Mumbles) wow. (Somewhat cheerful) Oh, I like it that way. That’s the way it should be. (Trying to remember again) You said … Do you remember the question?

MR. ALBEE
Nope.

INTERVIEWER
Artaud is Artaud. And Edward Albee is Edward Albee. “And that’s the way is should be.” Um. (He scribbles and giggles) Gosh, all that stuff about Nick and Honey … (Sucking it up) Ok, I’m not going to do this in front of you. I’ll be able to do it. (Thinking again) You said something about being, not inventing, um… (Pause) speci … specificity. Being specific with your words … (Mumbles) oh this is going to be rough …

MR. ALBEE
I don’t know what you’re talking about.

INTERVIEWER
Ah, it’s ok. (Pause, a breath) I love it. I love the time that we’ve had. I wonder, I probably don’t have a lot more. (Scribbling more notes)

MR. ALBEE
Keep going.

INTERVIEWER
Thank you.

MR. ALBEE
I mean, you’re spending most of your time sitting here kvetching. I mean …

INTERVIEWER
Exactly. So I’m going to get over it. Right, you were accurate … students … (Scribbling some more notes)

MR. ALBEE
That’s the joke, the Jewish joke about the deaf dog.

INTERVIEWER
What? (Finally puts down his pen) The deaf dog?

MR. ALBEE
The deaf dog. Old Jewish man took his dog to the vet, said there’s something wrong with it. The vet examined the dog. The dog seemed fine. And uh, it’s a talking dog, by the way. And the guy said, you wanna see what’s wrong with the dog. And he looked at the dog and said, “Fetch!” The dog walked away a few paces and said, “You never take me out, you never give me good food, you make me sit here all the time, you never talk to me, you’re never nice to me.” (Laughter) And he said, “Don’t you see? The dog’s deaf. Can’t tell the difference between ‘fetch’ and ‘kvetch.’” (Chuckles) So, you’re sitting here kvetching instead of fetching.

INTERVIEWER
Indeed, indeed. Was that a Henny Youngman?

MR. ALBEE
It should be. (After a thought) It’s too long, he did one-liners. Ya know?

INTERVIEWER
Yeah, yeah.

MR. ALBEE
“Take my wife, please!” routines.

INTERVIEWER
You love the one-liner, huh?

MR. ALBEE
Mmm hmm. Often it’s good, it’s really funny and damaging and dangerous.

INTERVIEWER
You’re able to get your ... Your economy of words is astounding the way you chisel your scripts so that there’s no word in excess.

MR. ALBEE
I hope not. I learn that from people like Beckett and Chekhov.

INTERVIEWER
(Pause) Rhythm?

MR. ALBEE
By wanting to be a composer and knowing a great deal about music. And understanding that a playwright notates the same way a composer does. Half notes, quarter notes, dotted eighth notes. Fast, slow, loud, soft.

INTERVIEWER
Do you hear Virginia Woolf as a quartet all the time?

MR. ALBEE
Oh sure.

INTERVIEWER
What were the qualities of Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner that made you gravitate to them?

MR. ALBEE
Contrasting manners. Overboard for Kathleen, underneath to the same goal for Bill. Intelligence on the part of both of them. (Pause) I think Bill will be a revelation to people.

INTERVIEWER
How so?

MR. ALBEE
Well, because ya know, everybody knows him just as a clown. They’ve never seen him perform Beckett, as I have. Good actor.

INTERVIEWER
Great actor. He’s able to hit everything naturally and realistically in a way, but perfectly in time.

MR. ALBEE
Yea, it’s a matter of timing. (Nodding)

INTERVIEWER
(Long awkward silence) I like to say, God is timing.

MR. ALBEE
Who?

INTERVIEWER
Who? Who, hmm, who is right. Do you think that we’ve been a victim of this God and this, this creation of God? Ah, man.

MR. ALBEE
You mean, man creating God in his own image?

INTERVIEWER
Yeah.

MR. ALBEE
It’s so preposterous and I don’t really see what you can say about it. The only god that can be worshipped is that which cannot be conceived of, or imagined. Tiny Alice takes care of all those things.

INTERVIEWER
Indeed it does. Do you think we’ll ever get over God?

MR. ALBEE
No. Of course not.

INTERVIEWER
I know it’s been years, but …

MR. ALBEE
God won’t let us. (Laughs)

INTERVIEWER
(Understanding) The smoke screen.

MR. ALBEE
(Nodding) Sure.

INTERVIEWER
(Pause) But, I think about the future, I mean the future future, and … Don’t we know enough by now? Don’t we know that war is insane, is a money making machine fueled on the lives of innocent people?

MR. ALBEE
Well don’t forget that last refuge of scoundrels—patriotism.

INTERVIEWER
Hmm, who wrote that?

MR. ALBEE
I can’t remember, somebody good.

INTERVIEWER
(Chuckle) Hmm, yeah.

MR. ALBEE
The more we learn, the better we get at self-deception.

INTERVIEWER
(Long pause) It’s healthy. Denial. Denial is quite, hmm, self deception, it’s distance … well I don’t know what. What is it?

MR. ALBEE
What is what?

INTERVIEWER
Self-deception.

MR. ALBEE
It’s something we invent so that we don’t have to think about things. (Pause) That’s the whole point of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The Iceman Cometh, O’Neil says you have to have false illusions in order to survive. Right? Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? says it’s ok to have false illusions as long as you know they’re false. The problem comes when you start believing them.

INTERVIEWER
Do you think at the end of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? … it seems like, uh, Martha admits the fear of the truth?

MR. ALBEE
Yes. When he says to her, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, she says, “ I am George.” She’s afraid of living life without the false illusions.

INTERVIEWER
(Pause) And you leave it there.

MR. ALBEE
Of course.

INTERVIEWER
Blackout.

MR. ALBEE
That’s the way it should be left.

INTERVIEWER
Absolutely.

MR. ALBEE
Mm hmm. (Correcting the INTERVIEWER) Slow fade.

INTERVIEWER
Thank you. I wonder, uh, do you think about …

MR. ALBEE
(More accurately) Medium fade.

INTERVIEWER
(Chuckle) Medium, yeah. Thank you. Do … You don’t. (Smiling) I know you don’t. Do you ever think about your characters’ lives after the play?

MR. ALBEE
No. But it was very interesting when I wrote Home Life.

INTERVIEWER
Oh, that’s your new play? A first act to The Zoo Story?

MR. ALBEE
I had to think about my character’s life before The Zoo Story. It’s quite different. It’s not just thinking about it after the fact. I decided I wanted to know what was going on for Peter at home before he went to the park. So I started writing it and I realized that after 45 years or so I still knew who Peter was and I still knew who his wife was.

INTERVIEWER
Right and the two kids …

MR. ALBEE
The whole thing. I still knew who they were.

INTERVIEWER
(Interested) Do you have the birds?

MR. ALBEE
There are birds, they’re not on stage. Kids aren’t on stage either.

INTERVIEWER
It’s a two-person? With the wife.

MR. ALBEE
Mmm, Anne

INTERVIEWER
(Chuckles) Anne? Where did that come from?

MR. ALBEE
That’s her name. (Laughs)

INTERVIEWER
(Big laugh then pause) Are we ever going to see it in New York?

MR. ALBEE
I hope so, sure.

INTERVIEWER
When are we going to be able to read it?

MR. ALBEE
Probably after we see it in New York.

INTERVIEWER
Uh huh. (Laughter) When’d you finish?

MR. ALBEE
A year ago.

INTERVIEWER
What are you waiting for?

MR. ALBEE
Aaah, proper production in New York.

INTERVIEWER
And what is that? I mean, who’s responsible …

MR. ALBEE
It will happen.

INTERVIEWER
Uhuh, exactly, it will happen, it will happen. (Long pause) It’s another shocking turn for Mr. Albee to … to write a previous act. It’s terrific really.

MR. ALBEE
I couldn’t have done it if it wasn’t there.

INTERVIEWER
Indeed, indeed.

MR. ALBEE
And I couldn’t have written Peter in The Zoo Story unless I’d known what his home life was like. I just hadn’t had the need to focus on it. But it was still there.

INTERVIEWER
What was the need now to focus there?

MR. ALBEE
I thought it would be interesting to do.

INTERVIEWER
Like most of your plays.

MR. ALBEE
Yes, most of all I was getting tired of having to approve of other plays that people wanted to do with The Zoo Story. And so if I have this, I could do the two of them together. It’s all one play. Home Life and The Zoo Story have become Peter and Jerry. That’s the title.

INTERVIEWER
Right. So no more American Dream and Zoo Story.

MR. ALBEE
No.

INTERVIEWER
It can now finally live as a full length.

MR. ALBEE (Quick)
As a what?

INTERVIEWER
(Laughs) Sorry (Getting it right) as a longer night of theatre.

MR. ALBEE
That’s right. (Notices something) What is that spray can you have there?

INTERVIEWER
(Picking up and showing his silver thermos to MR. ALBEE) It’s a thermos. I haven’t used it yet.

MR. ALBEE
Oh, it’s a thermos. I thought you were going to spray the loft or something.

INTERVIEWER
No. (Taking a drink) How do you end Act One?

MR. ALBEE
Uh, where it should be. Peter leaving the apartment. To go to the park. It takes intermission for him to get there.

INTERVIEWER
Uh ha, that’s great, and then he arrives. (Wondering) What book is he reading?

MR. ALBEE
I don’t know, that’s up to him. Up to the actor. I don’t want to see the title.

INTERVIEWER
Uh huh. It doesn’t matter.

MR. ALBEE
I mean, it’s not going to say John Grisham or anything awful like that.

INTERVIEWER
But he does bring a book?

MR. ALBEE
Yes, of course.

INTERVIEWER
To sit at the park.

MR. ALBEE
(Shrugging shoulders simply) Sure, of course. It’s the book he’s reading.

INTERVIEWER
(Chuckle and a smile) Is he …

MR. ALBEE
Peter.

INTERVIEWER
Peter.

MR. ALBEE
Is he what?

INTERVIEWER
Uh, is he a dupe for you?

MR. ALBEE
A what?

INTERVIEWER
(Clearer) A dupe. (Seriously) Do you set him up to tear him down?

MR. ALBEE
Don’t be insulting. (Smiles)

INTERVIEWER
Really? (Laughing)

MR. ALBEE
Yes of course. He’s a real person. He’s having his life and he makes the mistake of talking to Jerry. Of course he learns a great deal by talking to Jerry. He’s probably going to be a quite different person by the end of The Zoo Story. And that will affect his future and his life with his wife and everything. Yeah. A dupe?

INTERVIEWER
Listen, it seems to me that you, your plays, you set up worlds and you tear them down.

MR. ALBEE
No (Pointedly) the characters tear them down.

INTERVIEWER
(Suppressed gut laugh) What about that moment in Delicate Balance when the neighbors come over and say, We’re going to stay?

MR. ALBEE
That was interesting.

INTERVIEWER
Horrifying.

MR. ALBEE
Obviously I decided they were going to do that but I was quite surprised when they said it.

INTERVIEWER
I bet.

MR. ALBEE
(Coughs) Same way that with Three Tall Women I didn’t know the boy was going to come in, in the second act, until I wrote the boy enters.

INTERVIEWER
You’re like, “Look who’s here.”

MR. ALBEE
Well look who’s here. It’s a four character play, my goodness. But obviously I’d decided. I hadn’t told myself.

INTERVIEWER
Self-deception.

MR. ALBEE
No, you learn things when you need to. He didn’t need to come in until that point, so why would I inform myself until that point?

INTERVIEWER
Right. Right. Did you like that revival of Delicate Balance, the last one? With, with that sweater, the sweater of the neighbor, the woman (Gesturing the turtleneck)

MR. ALBEE
Oh, I guess she didn’t like her neck.

INTERVIEWER
It was … it was … I mean, I felt so (Choking himself) for her. I mean like, she looked like Winnie a little bit. You know?

MR. ALBEE
Hmm … Yeah, it was a good production.

INTERVIEWER
I had front row seats for it. (He purrs like a sexy cat) Do you like sitting in the back or the front, or in the middle or on the side?

MR. ALBEE
As long as I can be alone.

INTERVIEWER
I can’t imagine you sitting in the theatre and weeping over your plays.

MR. ALBEE
Of course not, I’m too busy making sure they’re being performed correctly.

INTERVIEWER
Then why the need to be alone?

MR. ALBEE
I don’t like distraction. That’s why that box is fine. (Glares) Except some people could look at you.

INTERVIEWER
Sorry.

MR. ALBEE
I’ll wear a beard and funny hair next time.

INTERVIEWER
I was the only one who knew. (Pause) You didn’t see me?

MR. ALBEE
Did you wave?

INTERVIEWER
I did. I almost heckled you after the show. I almost said, “Mr. Albee, you rock!” The play rocks.

MR. ALBEE
That’s not a heckle.

INTERVIEWER
No. Ahh, is a heckle derogatory? Not derogatory …

MR. ALBEE
Yes, it is usually.

INTERVIEWER
It’s another great Yiddish word.

MR. ALBEE
Is it?

INTERVIEWER
I’m assuming, actually. Sorry. But I’m assuming that (Listening to the word) heckle, heckle.

MR. ALBEE
It sounds German. (Admitting) Well, a lot of Yiddish is German.

INTERVIEWER
It feels like a word that probably came up in the New York Yiddish Theatre.

MR. ALBEE
There was a Hegel and there was a Heckle, by the way.

INTERVIEWER (Laughing)
Is that right?

MR. ALBEE
There’s a Heckle there somewhere. Maybe he was a scientist. I don’t know.

INTERVIEWER
The act of going to the theatre, back when … (Thinking) probably before your time …

MR. ALBEE
I didn’t go to the theatre before my time.

INTERVIEWER
I know. But people did, and they threw vegetables and they yelled back at the stage and they were involved in it as a sporting event, the way they could jeer it … by the time you come along …

MR. ALBEE
Spontaneity out the window.

INTERVIEWER
Umm. (Searching) Beckett came more from that place, more from a place, from Vaudeville, which I feel informs his work in the relationship with the audience, that it’s really happening in the space.

MR. ALBEE
Yeah, too much is made of it, that’s why Godot is not as good as most of his other plays. He didn’t have the comedic elements under total control yet.

INTERVIEWER
But if the actors find it, then it’s a winner.

MR. ALBEE
Yeah, it’s fine, but it’s still, a little excessive.

INTERVIEWER
What is?

MR. ALBEE
The play’s not solid.

INTERVIEWER
No. It just goes (Makes a trippy ‘wawa’ sound). He’s constantly …

MR. ALBEE
I just find that his craft wasn’t under total control yet.

INTERVIEWER
There’s some moments right there at the end of your play, you end your play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a little like Godot, with your: Well, shall we go? Yes, let’s go.

MR. ALBEE
I wouldn’t be surprised.

INTERVIEWER
Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised either.

MR. ALBEE
It’s like the ending of a lot of good pieces of music.

INTERVIEWER
That … It’s something with stillness and movement still happening together, the duality …

MR. ALBEE
Yeah I would like to think that I get my … my moments from good people.

INTERVIEWER
(Shift) You got to meet Beckett.

MR. ALBEE
Yes.

INTERVIEWER
What did you take from him?

MR. ALBEE
They were casual meetings. He was a gentle, nice man.

INTERVIEWER
Another man of the theatre though. You shared a love.

MR. ALBEE
Well we didn’t talk about our craft or anything. I don’t remember what we talked about.

INTERVIEWER
But you got on?

MR. ALBEE
Yes. I wasn’t sitting at his feet or so to speak.

INTERVIEWER
Of course not. And he enjoyed your plays? Two men with completely singular visions of their … meaning the manifestation of your theatre is all your own. There’s no other laws.

MR. ALBEE
Well, there shouldn’t be.

INTERVIEWER
There shouldn’t be, but I tell you that there are playwrights who think …

MR. ALBEE
I told my playwrighting students, you have to write and not only do you have to see the first play you’ve ever seen, but every time you write a play, you have to write the first play that’s ever been written. How else can you be individual?

INTERVIEWER
Do you like the quality of amnesia in your life? Waking up as if it’s the first day and living it as if it’s your last?

MR. ALBEE
Well, I think that’s nice. It probably helps with the encroaching Alzheimer’s anyway.

INTERVIEWER
(Disagreeing) You are sharper then any blade around. You know it and I know it.

MR. ALBEE
Well, the only comforting thing is that they say that if you know what Alzheimer’s is called, you don’t have it.

INTERVIEWER (Laughs)
In the interviews … I’ve read that no playwrights are inspiring you right now.

MR. ALBEE
That’s nonsense.

INTERVIEWER
Is that nonsense?

MR. ALBEE
I’m always taking in nourishment from what other people do. You learn from people’s successes and mistakes. You learn what to do and what not to do. And everything relates to your craft.

INTERVIEWER
You spend so many hours in the theatre.

MR. ALBEE
Yeah.

INTERVIEWER
Is it all right?

MR. ALBEE
It’s very boring.

INTERVIEWER
Yeah, sometimes. And sometimes, I’m sure you get up and leave if it’s not happening for you? Or do you stick it out?

MR. ALBEE
Yeah, I do. (The cell phone rings again) I’ll be right back.

(MR. ALBEE gets up. The INTERVIEWER pauses the minidisk recorder and scribbles some more notes. When MR. ALBEE returns, the INTERVIEWER unpauses.)

INTERVIEWER
(Like a radio announcer) Welcome back.

MR. ALBEE (Taken aback)
What?

INTERVIEWER
Welcome back.

MR. ALBEE
Okay.

INTERVIEWER
(Big breath) Could you tell me again what makes Bach such a good thing to clear the brain?

MR. ALBEE
Clarity, order, inevitability.

INTERVIEWER
Thank you. I appreciate that. That’s what I was looking for.

MR. ALBEE
I think that’s what a play should be about too. That’s the difference between a good play and a bad play. The inevitable verses the arbitrary.

INTERVIEWER
What do you mean?

MR. ALBEE
No matter how surprising a play is, it should always be inevitable.

INTERVIEWER
The course is set.

MR. ALBEE
Uh huh. But after you’ve finished it, it was never, say I know what was going to happen, but whatever happens, you have to know that it could have been different but the way everything was, the way the people were, the way the situation was … (Sigh) it was inevitable.

INTERVIEWER
It’s true. All your plays, all your plays are inevitable, from the curtain coming up, you don’t know it, but by the end …

MR. ALBEE
Yeah well, a play is a set of parentheses around events.

INTERVIEWER
I wonder what events are (Changes direction) Another question. I remember the last time I was here, nine years ago, you told me that you were working on a play about Andre Gide.

MR. ALBEE
Not about Andre Gide, he was in the title. The title was, I Think Back Now On Andre Gide.

INTERVIEWER
What happened to that play?

MR. ALBEE
(Simply) The title is still there.

INTERVIEWER
And it’s still brewing.

MR. ALBEE
Yeah. The play I’m writing now is a different title, a different play.

INTERVIEWER (Quietly hoping)
Could you tell me a little?

MR. ALBEE
Nope.

INTERVIEWER
(Understanding) It has to remain a secret.

MR. ALBEE
Well, somebody may steal it. Also, I don’t know.

INTERVIEWER
How could somebody steal an Edward Albee play?

MR. ALBEE
Steal an idea.

INTERVIEWER
Ahhh … It’s that good, eh?

MR. ALBEE
Sure.

INTERVIEWER
You’ll let it brew for a while then you’ll start work on it in Montauk?

MR. ALBEE
Yeah.

INTERVIEWER
Do you like reading plays?

MR. ALBEE
Yeah, sure. It’s more comfortable than seeing them.

INTERVIEWER
It is isn’t it? You can put them down for a second … (Smiling) or longer. Um, there was a real question that I haven’t asked you yet. Ahh … Do you think that plays could, um, change form in any way? Could it exist outside of lights up and blackout?

MR. ALBEE
Where would they exist? They exist already as literature. They can be read.

INTERVIEWER
Indeed. The question I was going to ask was, would breaking the form somehow …

ALBEE
What?

INTERVIEWER
Meaning that you write a play written around a given theme and it could be rearranged, maybe it doesn’t go from A to Z?

MR. ALBEE
Well, everything has to go from its beginning to its end.

INTERVIEWER
Yes, but can in performance, can it rearrange itself?

MR. ALBEE
I don’t think so. No. Think of a composer.

INTERVIEWER
True. But I’m thinking about the live experience.

MR. ALBEE
The aesthetic experience, the intellectual experience, the emotional experience have all got to commence and end. They’ve got to go from one place to another. They have lots of ways to get from one place to another, but they must get from one place to another. So why would you want them to go in any other fashion?

INTERVIEWER
Somehow, to include the audience …

MR. ALBEE (Overlapping)
What’s wrong with the mathematical equation working itself out?

INTERVIEWER
I think I’m asking about randomness and the live experience.

MR. ALBEE
Well then, let the actors improvise and that would be a different kind of play, totally, and I wouldn’t take credit for it.

INTERVIEWER
Right. Would you enjoy a play like that?

MR. ALBEE
I don’t know. I’ve seen improvisatorial scenes in plays and sometimes they work. Depends on how good the improvisers are.

INTERVIEWER
At the end of the day it comes down to dialogue. How are the words.

MR. ALBEE
Of course. Things go from a place to a place it seems to me.

INTERVIEWER
(Pointing at a painting) This piece here reminds me of Joan.

(The cell phone rings again. MR. ALBEE answers it. The INTERVIEWER gets up and wanders around looking at the art.)

MR. ALBEE (Into his cell phone)
Hello? Where are you now? Uh huh. I can hear you perfectly well, can you hear me? Oh … The Butterfield will take a little time … (The INTERVIEWER laughs heartily at an art piece then quiets) I did? … Nope … I never had one … He was out at my foundation … We are? If it’s going to stop, yes. Don’t rush though. … Okay … bid higher … yeah, let the action go. (Long silence) Okay. Okay. … Okay. … Nope. Thanks. That’s it. … Okay. Bye bye. (He hangs up)

INTERVIEWER
(Walks back and sits down) I love your collection.

MR. ALBEE
Thank you.

INTERVIEWER
It’s not decorative.

MR. ALBEE
No, no it’s not.

INTERVIEWER (Careful phrasing)
It has a beginning and an end and you can stand away from it and take it in.

MR. ALBEE (Approving)
Good.

INTERVIEWER
I like the underwear piece.

MR. ALBEE
I think the artist painted it about AIDS.

INTERVIEWER
(Looking at it from afar) I would describe it as almost six feet tall by four?

MR. ALBEE
It’s more than that. I would say it’s eight feet by four by five.

INTERVIEWER
(Continuing) With about two dozen pairs of briefs stuck flat to the canvas which has been fully painted black.

MR. ALBEE
How can you have a pair of briefs?

INTERVIEWER
That’s a very good question.

MR. ALBEE
You can have a pair of socks because those are two.

INTERVIEWER
That’s very true, but I don’t think I’ve misspoken. We do refer to briefs as a pair of briefs or even a pair of pants.

MR. ALBEE
Well, that’s a mistake isn’t it?

INTERVIEWER
Well, where did that come from?

MR. ALBEE
I don’t know.

INTERVIEWER
I don’t know either.

MR. ALBEE
It’s just wrong.

INTERVIEWER
It’s just wrong. The English language sometimes is just absolutely wrong.
Which makes it funny. Yeah. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? you’re constantly playing language like that.

MR. ALBEE
Yes, my characters are.

INTERVIEWER
(Corrected) Your characters, thank you. You must have a delightful time at it? Again, I don’t have the image of you writing and …

MR. ALBEE
Chuckling?

INTERVIEWER
Well, you may chuckle, yeah?

MR. ALBEE
I chuckle occasionally.

INTERVIEWER
I’m sure, but you don’t weep.

MR. ALBEE
No.

INTERVIEWER
You don’t write a line and go, (Crying) oohh?

MR. ALBEE
Oh no, come on. No.

INTERVIEWER
You let it come like a true musician or composer better said.

MR. ALBEE
I know when something is moving, but I’m not going to go around being an audience.

INTERVIEWER
There is something about an emotional detachment in your writing that makes a great play in a way. Do you see what I’m saying?

MR. ALBEE
Well, you shouldn’t get in the way of your work.

INTERVIEWER
Right, and sometimes playwrights will. Their emotional involvement will come spewing out on the stage.

MR. ALBEE
And then it’s no longer the characters, it’s the playwright.

INTERVIEWER
Right, right.

MR. ALBEE
That’s why I don’t write about me. I write through me, not about me. I can’t imagine what I can’t imagine, so I’m limited by the limits of my imagination. But I don’t write about me. I do not exist in any of my plays except as a silent character in Three Tall Women perhaps.

INTERVIEWER
Are you overwhelmed at all, sometimes?

MR. ALBEE
About what?

INTERVIEWER
About this thing that happens when a character appears and it’s such perfection. It’s such a perfection that …

MR. ALBEE
It’s very stimulating to know that your mind is working interestingly.

INTERVIEWER
Right. It gets you hot and bothered a little bit.

MR. ALBEE
That’s nice. Whoooo, aren’t you clever, but then you go back to your business. (He smiles)

(They both stop for a moment and take each other in. Silence.)

INTERVIEWER
Yeah. (Looking) You are a Cheshire Cat in a way, you know, with a big wide grin that is … attentive, watching. (Smiles, shifts again) Do you get a lot of inspiration at the ocean?

MR. ALBEE
I don’t know what inspiration is. I enjoy being by the ocean. I enjoy that a lot. Probably led to Seascape.

INTERVIEWER (Adding)
Finding the Sun.

MR. ALBEE
Well, Sandbox is set on the ocean.

INTERVIEWER
You like bringing the ocean onto stage?

MR. ALBEE
Well, it’s very difficult. It’s very wet.

INTERVIEWER
It is. It ruins the costumes.

MR. ALBEE
It slops all over into the first row of the orchestra. You can’t do that sort of thing.

INTERVIEWER
But the feeling of being at the ocean …

MR. ALBEE
I’ve never counted how many of my plays are outdoors. Quite a few are.

INTERVIEWER
Because you get outdoors, yeah?

MR. ALBEE
Well, my characters do.

INTERVIEWER
Exactly, but in your experience of life it’s important to go out, to travel.

MR. ALBEE
Well, contrast is important.

INTERVIEWER
Fine. True enough. All contrast is important. Humm, indeed, you never have light without the dark in your plays. They’re always quite balanced.

MR. ALBEE
Thank you.

INTERVIEWER
You’re welcome. You’re welcome. There’s constantly a delicate balance that you hold.

MR. ALBEE
Or else it would be All Over.

INTERVIEWER
(Knee slap) That’s a good one. Indeed. (Pause) To what end …

MR. ALBEE
I probably have more four-footed animals in my plays than most people do.

INTERVIEWER
Probably, I think you do.

MR. ALBEE
The dog in the Zoo Story, the cat in Delicate Balance, the two sea creatures from Seascape, the goat in The Goat.

INTERVIEWER
But you don’t have any animals do you? I don’t see any cats running around.

MR. ALBEE
There is a very old cat upstairs. I used to have Irish Wolfhounds too. They all died. I got too peripatetic to take care of all that.

INTERVIEWER
But now you have a nice old cat.

MR. ALBEE
She’s fine.

INTERVIEWER
What’s her name?

MR. ALBEE
Snow, she’s white, and she’s crazy so I called her Snowflake.

INTERVIEWER (Laughs)
That’s good. It’s good to have something moving around the space.

MR. ALBEE
It is.

INTERVIEWER
If not music, then a cat.

MR. ALBEE
I meet lots of dogs on the street so I get to talk to them.

INTERVIEWER
You like dogs?

MR. ALBEE
Yeah, sure.

INTERVIEWER
Yeah, me too. Irish Wolfhounds? (Too casual) What’s up with them?

MR. ALBEE (Not amused)
“What’s up” with them? They’re a proper size.

INTERVIEWER
What size are they?

MR. ALBEE
Well, if they stand up and put their paws on your shoulders, they’re looking down on you.

INTERVIEWER
Wow, wow. (Laughs) As do some animals.

MR. ALBEE
They’re great. I’ll have another one someday.

INTERVIEWER
Yeah? They’re quiet. They don’t talk.

MR. ALBEE
Oh they talk, they don’t jabber. When they have something to say, they’re perfectly happy to talk. They sigh a lot.

INTERVIEWER
(Thinking out loud) When you go to black out, there is never an answer. You never …

MR. ALBEE
Blackout?

INTERVIEWER
In your plays.

MR. ALBEE
Medium fade.

INTERVIEWER
Medium fade. (Second thought) Yeah, what is blackout?

MR. ALBEE
(Considering it) I don’t know when I do blackouts.

INTERVIEWER
Yeah, I don’t know either. You don’t. I love … is it in Tiny Alice? The stage direction reads: “Not until the lights have gone completely down does the curtain drop.” Let them sit in the darkness for that moment.

MR. ALBEE
I don’t know if I’ve ever done a blackout. Maybe I have.

INTERVIEWER
Certainly not inside your plays. Maybe scene breaks?

MR. ALBEE
No they’re not blackouts. It’s such an artificial device.

INTERVIEWER
It’s not real to the world of the play.

MR. ALBEE
No. (Beat) It also makes me think that something has happened to the electricity in the theatre.

INTERVIEWER
Indeed. Indeed. The sun rising at the end of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is extraordinary. We’ve gone through this dark, long night.

MR. ALBEE
“It will be dawn soon I think the party’s over. Time to go now.”

INTERVIEWER
Yeah. We’re done. You know? (One last thought) What was the line that you quoted, the funny line … I want to remember.

MR. ALBEE
“After a while, you don’t get any drunker do you?” It’s not a question. It’s a statement.

INTERVIEWER
Thank you. Do you have most of your plays … you know the music by heart?

MR. ALBEE
I can tell when they’re being misquoted. Oh sure.

INTERVIEWER
But when you’re watching your plays, I know you can hear a misquote very easily I’m sure …

MR. ALBEE
Yeah, but when somebody says I like this line in this play of yours, and they’re quoting, I can tell when they’re quoting accurately or not.

INTERVIEWER
Right, and they have to quote it accurately because that’s the way it’s written.

MR. ALBEE
Well, you’d like it that way, but half the time they don’t. I mean, I’m talking about interviewers and such. They say, oh that wonderful line and then they misquote it. I have to remind them …

INTERVIEWER
Do you have any wonderful lines that you thought that in a sentence you captured something bigger? “And so it goes.” I think of it in Three Tall Women where you repeat, I know at least twice, I don’t know if I found a third, but I feel like there’s a third that I didn’t find.

MR. ALBEE
There may be, I’m not sure. No, she got fascinated with a phrase so she repeated it.

INTERVIEWER
I got it. But it’s music.

MR. ALBEE
Yeah, it’s all music.

INTERVIEWER
And you’re always listening to people.

MR. ALBEE
Uh huh.

INTERVIEWER
Not only in your characters, but in life. I know you’re a very good listener.

MR. ALBEE
Yeah.

INTERVIEWER
If there is any good secret to playwrighting that could be …

MR. ALBEE
I think listening helps. (Pause) I find also that I learn more by listening then I do by talking. (MR. ALBEE shoots the INTERVIEWER a look.)

INTERVIEWER (Packing up his things)
I like that about your plays, I like that you’ve said that, that uh, you don’t necessarily have the cathartic experience while you watch the play.

MR. ALBEE
After.

INTERVIEWER
After, you prefer.

MR. ALBEE
Yeah. Catharsis after the fact.

INTERVIEWER
Why?

MR. ALBEE
Because otherwise you’re just wrapping things up too neatly with too many Christmas ribbons.

INTERVIEWER
Your plays are puzzles to be continually … you know, not solved …

MR. ALBEE
Any play you can get by seeing it once isn’t worth bothering with.

INTERVIEWER
Indeed.

MR. ALBEE
(Long pause) We have to be done.

INTERVIEWER
(Standing up with his things) Thank you Mr. Albee. It’s been a real pleasure.

MR. ALBEE
(Quietly) You’ve done good.

INTERVIEWER
Thanks so much.

(They share a clumsy hug then kiss each other on the cheek. The INTERVIEWER exits slowly. MR. ALBEE is left alone on stage. Silence; tableau. Medium fade to black.)

CURTAIN

Edward Albee’s playwrighting career spans almost fifty years. His plays include The Zoo Story, A Delicate Balance, Tiny Alice, Seascape, Three Tall Women and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? A revival production of his play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is currently running on Broadway at the Longacre Theater, 220 West 48th Street.

Eric Wallach is a theatre director and playwright who lives in the East Village. Send questions or comments: ebwally@yahoo.com

Contributor

Eric Wallach

Eric Wallach is a theater director and playwright who lives in the East Village.

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