Edward Albee, one of the playwriting giants of our time (a diminishing breed), made a rare public speaking appearance at The Player’s Club on September 21st to help promote the release of Dr. Anne Paolucci’s new book, Edward Albee: The Later Plays. A number of prominent aesthetes assembled in the elegant, tiny auditorium, including Albee veterans such as Marian Seldes and Eli Wallach, as well as old Hollywood types like Dick CavettJerry Stiller. The mood was appropriately reverent but still conversational, a gathering of many mutually admiring old friends. Mrs. Seldes put it the best in one of several introductions to the man himself, calling him the “dearest friend you could ever have.” and
Mr. Albee himself is amazingly vital for being 88. Knowing him only from his plays, I didn’t know what to expect from the man himself, but he’s a terrifically funny and sly fellow with a bushy Mark Twain mustache and twinkling eyes. He sat between two interviewers in a cool black leather jacket and always willing to let others talk as much as they’d like before putting his own succinct and erudite point in, his voice clear and smooth. Particularly he had a lot of respect and evident love for the woman who wrote the book about his plays, Dr. Paolucci, who gave a lengthy preamble to Mr. Albee’s talk.
Dr. Paolucci is definitely an academic, but her love of Mr. Albee’s work is clear. She comes off as more of an old fashioned Albee-nerd as she sought to put her own definition on the Albee universe and relate it to our own. Her book will make a fine addition to the library of anybody looking for the key to the Albee “code”.
Mr. Albee is charmingly humble and easy going about his own work as much as he is proud of it. He excoriated the scriptwriter of the movie of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ for taking credit for the screenplay after altering two lines; said that Mike Nichols was “too young to make the mistakes” on that project that “he has since learned to make”; and perhaps most amusingly, said that he preferred the original casting in the roles of George and Martha of Bette Davis and James Mason. Albee himself mentioned time and again his debt to his predecessors, such as Chekhov and Beckett, particularly bringing up Pirandello again and again. This makes sense.