PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Edward Albee

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Edward Albee "I'm not interested in living in a city where there isn't a production of Samuel Beckett running," said playwright Edward Albee at a recent press conference.
Edward Albee.
Edward Albee. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Albee has seen to it first-hand that New York will not be that benighted Beckett-less metropolis. The dramatist's latest Manhattan offering pairs his play Counting the Ways with three short one-acts by Beckett: Not I, Footfalls and A Piece of Monologue. The evening, labeled Beckett/Albee, will begin performances at the Century Center for the Performing Arts on Sept. 23. The enterprise reunites the plaudit-reaping team of Albee's The Play About the Baby, including actors Marian Seldes and Brian Murray and producer Elizabeth McCann. It also serves as a nice bookend for Albee's career, which began in Berlin in 1959 with a double bill of his The Zoo Story and Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape (a evening that was later replicated in New York). Albee talked to Playbill On-Line about his most consistent playwright companion.

Playbill On-Line: Your career began with the pairing of a play of yours with one of Beckett's. Have you been thinking for some time that you'd like to have another such evening?
Edward Albee: Well, anytime I can be on a double bill with Sam, that's wonderful. It makes me happy. My plays and Sam's have been done a lot together in Europe and elsewhere. It's just in New York City, for some reason, since 1964—when we did a revival of Krapp's Last Tape and The Zoo Story—that they haven't been done together.

PBOL: The director Lawrence Sacharow said the idea began with him and the producer Elizabeth McCann wanting to do a production of your play Counting the Ways and then looking for an appropriate companion piece. Then he saw Marian Seldes perform Beckett's Rockaby at a benefit and decided Beckett was the right match.
EA: Yeah—good idea. The only real input I've had, beside the choice of director and casting, is they wanted to call it Albee/Beckett. I said "No way." For three reasons. One, out of respect—Beckett first. Also because the Beckett is being done first [in the production]. And also, because there was that awful review somebody wrote about Katharine Hepburn...

PBOL: "Katharine Hepburn runs the gamut of emotions from A to B."
EA: Yes.

PBOL: That was Dorothy Parker.
EA: Right, so [the critics] were going to call the thing habitually "A to B." PBOL: Has this experience made you think of those days in the late '50s and early '60s when your career was starting?
EA: I don't think I've ever lost contact with that time. I've directed Beckett over the years, so I've stayed in contact with him.

PBOL: I was surprised when Sacharow said that he and McCann had been looking to pair Counting the Ways with other plays for a while. Commercial producers these days tend not to actively seek productions of one-acts.
EA: Yes, one-act plays tend to be anathema. They're considered to be lesser experiences. I had an amazing experience, maybe eight or 10 years ago. West on 42nd Street, they were doing an evening of four Beckett plays. I went and the first play was called Ohio Impromptu. Twelve minutes. Intermission. I got outside after this experience and found myself walking away: I'd had a full theatre evening.

PBOL: Did you ever meet Beckett?
EA: Oh, yes. Paris. New York. One famous evening in London. Sam was there directing Endgame. He and Harold Pinter and I and these two actors went out to a club after a performance. We sat around all evening talking about the Marquis de Sade. I didn't [know about de Sade], so I sat there listening. I saw him a few times. Nice, gentle guy.

PBOL: Samuel Beckett.
EA: Yes. Not the Marquis De Sade.

PBOL: Except perhaps Rosemary Harris, I think Marian Seldes has performed your work in New York City more often than any other American actress. She's one of your great interpreters. What do you think she has that is such a great match for your words?
EA: She seems to understand the way my mind works, or the way my characters' minds work. She understands the music, the rhythm of the speeches. She understands the humor—she gets it. She understands understatement, that quite often less is more.

PBOL: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is your most famous play and one of the only major Albee plays that hasn't had a New York revival in the last decade. Has there been any more discussion on a production that will reach New York?
EA: Constantly. Constantly. So many people want to do it and so many people aren't right. I don't even know why they want to do it on Broadway. Why not do it Off-Broadway where you can get first rate actors who aren't names? It might be better Off-Broadway. The blockbuster actors would only give you four months on Broadway. And this is the first revival in New York since I directed it in 1976 with Colleen Dewhurst and Ben Gazzara. Why waste a production?