I’ve conducted literally thousands of interviews in what has become a sometimes dismayingly long career, but I was nonetheless noticeably (at least to me) nervous as I approached the building in New York City’s meatpacking district where the great playwright Edward Albee lives. You see, he had a profound effect on my life at a highly impressionable time, due to the film version of his landmark play ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ I’d traveled from Ohio to Los Angeles to go to college in the mid-60’s, and the night I stumbled, stunned, out of Pantages Theater after seeing Burton and Taylor go at it hammer and tong for two solid hours was and is seared into my memory. The language was exquisite, but blunt and wrenching and real. It remains at the top of my movies-I’d-take-to-a-desert-island list, and I still believe Burton got robbed at the Oscars.
Since then, I’d seen or read many of his plays, and I’d been trying to nail down this interview for Arts Alive for a year. When it finally came, though, it wasn’t through any effort on my part. It was instead, a serendipitous appearance Mr. Albee was making in Los Angeles that created an availability upon which the Arts Alive staff pounced.
I was to appear at his Manhattan home prior to his flight west.
Having spent several days intensely reviewing his work and career, I was vibrating like a tuning fork when the young man who assists the 82-year-old Mr. Albee these days met me outside the building and took me up to the large, art-filled loft the three-time Pulitzer winner calls home. I’d stood outside, feverishly consulting my pages of scribbled notes, trying to contain my excitement, but also my fear, because Mr. Albee has a reputation as a curmudgeon who doesn’t suffer fools lightly, and I’m no theater scholar, just an avid fan.
I needn’t have worried. When he came shuffling out of the kitchen area, looking somewhat frail but with faculties fully intact, firing on all cylinders, he turned out to be a gracious host, generous with his time and forthcoming with his answers, and when we were done and I asked if the encounter had been at least relatively painless for him, he paid me the high compliment of saying I’d been well-prepared. You can hear the results on the April 4th and 11th editions of Arts Alive, and judge for yourself.
One last thing: Knowing he was less than overwhelmed with the film version of ‘Virginia Woolf’ (he hated the use of music and the movement of one key sequence from the home set to a nearby ‘roadhouse’, and was bemused by the casting of Burton and Taylor), I wasn’t sure I should confess my love of it. But I did, making clear it was the language of the play itself I found so stimulating at that young age. His comment? ‘I’m glad I was able to do some damage early.”
Arts Alive contributing reporter