The Death of a Titan – Edward Albee


Edward Albee - 2015

Edward Albee – 2015

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This September 16th, 2016 (a week past, last Friday) Edward Francis Albee slipped the surly bonds of earth. My Dear Shoevians I know that with the title, above, this article was lost to too many. That really is a terrible shame, for in learning of Mr. Albee, is to learn a great deal about me (Daniel Hanning) at an early age. However, before I unpack that little sentence, let me show this titan of stage and screen his due.

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Edward Francis Albee was born March 12th, 1928 and immediately put up for adoption by his mother. However, as if to signal the great fortune (and luck) that was to be an undercurrent throughout his life, two weeks later Edward was adopted by the son of a wealthy vaudeville magnate Edward Franklin Albee II[1] of Larchmont in Westchester County, New York.

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In an interview, included in this article further down the page, Edward recalled that he was very fortunate to end up in the Albee family because “they gave me an extraordinary education”[2]. Edward never felt as thought he belonged in the Larchmont family, for one reason they were complete social opposites.

 

“They ere ‘Right Wing’ to the point… to the right of Gangues Khan somewhat I think… and they were bigots, I thought. Anti-black, anti… anti… anti-Semitic.”[3]

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In these schools (Lawrenceville School, Valley Forge Academy, Choate and Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut) Edward felt that the teachers knew that he would “do something great in the creative arts… and kept pushing me in that direction…”[4] These teachers were so very correct! Below, is a listing of the works of Edward Albee:

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Works written or adapted by Albee:

Awards Won by Edward Albee:

 

  • 1960: Drama Desk Award Vernon Rice Award: The Zoo Story
  • 1963: Tony Award for Best Play: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  • 1967: Pulitzer Prize for Drama: A Delicate Balance
  • 1975: Pulitzer Prize for Drama: Seascape
  • 1994: Pulitzer Prize for Drama: Three Tall Women
  • 1995: St. Louis Literary Award from the Saint Louis University Library Associates[23]
  • 1996: National Medal of Arts
  • 2002: Drama Desk Award Outstanding New Play: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?
  • 2002: Tony Award for Best Play: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?
  • 2005: Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • 2005: Academy of Achievement‘s Golden Plate Award
  • 2008: Drama Desk Award Special Award
  • 2011: Edward MacDowell Medal for Lifetime Achievement
  • 2011: Pioneer Award for Lifetime Achievement, Lambda Literary Foundation
  • 2015: America Award in Literature[6]

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Edward’s works spanned two generations, more than fifty years, and in all that time he never failed to shock his audiences or shake the very foundations of literary art. I must tell you, My Dear Shoevians, that I had a very early introduction to Mr. Albee’s works. It was 1975 when my, then, acting director (Mr. Truman Dunahoo) introduced me to the works of Mr. Albee. The very fist work, of his, I read was to be (unbeknownst to me) the very first of this works I (later) preformed!

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Edward Albee 1995

Edward Albee 1995

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That is correct My Dear Shoevians, I had the honor and distinct pleasure to perform one of Mr. Albee’s works, ‘The Zoo Story’. It was my freshman year of college at a little community college in Brazoria County, Texas – Alvin Community College. Now, My Dear Shoevians let me set up the background of that time in Texas… and that of the play. ‘The Zoo Story’ is the story of a gay man’s chance (?) meeting with a stranger in Central Park, New York in the early 60’s. The lead role, the one I portrayed, was that of an aging gay man… set out to take his own life… with the hands of a stranger.

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It is a One Act Play that takes about an hour to play out. During that hour, the lead actor, portraying ‘Jerry’, tells a tale – ‘The Story of Jerry and the Dog’. What ‘Jerry’ really is telling is a tale of his own battle with himself… with his sexual identity. Today, in 2016, that may not seem a turgid tale. However, in the early 60’s ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’, well… that is another matter entirely! People in Texas, at that time, did not talk of such things! Gay men were, frequently, beaten and/or killed for ‘showing’ who they were in public. It was 1977, when I portrayed this role, and things had changed little in the backwaters of Texas. My Dear Shoevians, this role was especially poignant, for me, because I had yet to come to grips with my own sexuality. So, here is a closeted gay man… on a small stage deep in the heart of Texas… portraying a gay man… committing suicide on stage!

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From everything I have ever read about Mr. Albee… from all the interviews I have watched… One factor is CLEAR! Mr. Albee wanted his audiences to feel discomfort. In that, he wanted to draw his viewers out of their social comfort zones. He wanted to challenge how they viewed their world, how they judged others, and he wanted the viewers of his plays to leave changed. I knew this going into my portrayal of Jerry in ‘The Zoo Story’. However, I was a very young actor, only 21 years old. It wasn’t until many years later, that I learned I had achieved my goal.

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In 1978 Alvin Community College had a very small theater, that was off campus. The theater was in a renovated single building church. The largest area, where the theater was located, was the same area where services were once held. Matter of fact? The stage, itself, was built directly on top of the old pulpit and baptistery once stood. Each and every night… I would drive a stage knife, into my chest, were (but a handful of years ago) dozens of people had been baptized.

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I would like to tell you, My Dear Shoevians, two short stories. These stories, I feel, display just how my performances of Jerry in ‘The Zoo Story’ ‘Hit the Mark’ as far as making Mr. Albee’s desire to make audiences uncomfortable during his plays. As you can see, in the image below, my hair was curly and a little long. However, at this time in my life I had very long and curly hair. I do not have any pictures from the exact time of this play. However, I can tell you that my dark curly hair reached my shoulders, at the time of this play. The theater was very old, and did not have central air conditioning, there were just a handful of window air conditioners, and none of them pointed on to the stage. That meant, that during performances, some actors (mostly those with the most lines, and movement… like me portraying ‘Jerry’) could get very very hot! My long curly hair would hold a large amount of sweat, during a performance. Now, My Dear Shoevians, this story was told to me many years after the performances by my high school drama teacher and director, Truman Dunahoo.

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Danny Hanning 1976 - Upper Right Corner

                             Danny Hanning 1976 – Upper Right Corner

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Seems, that when I would get excited on stage… I would turn quickly from one side of the stage to the other. Well, Truman told me, that on several occasions, when I would whip from left to right or right to left, sweat would fly off my brow and hair… and strike the audience! Truman explained it to me, like this: “You would whip around, on stage, and when you did sweat from your hair would rain across the audience. When that would happen, the audience would jump and their breath would catch. You see, Daniel, when the sweat struck us… for that moment… the ‘Forth Wall’ would COLAPSE! When that happened, for just and moment… we would leave the theater… and be in that park with that crazed Jerry!”

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For the few of you that are not theater savvy, “The Forth Wall’ is the invisible wall that separates the actors for the audience. It exists along the curtain of the stage (the edge in front of the curtain) from stage left to stage right. It is the invisible wall that audiences look through to see into the world the actors live! So, your see, My Dear Shoevians… each and every time I would quickly turn, from right to left or left to right, my sweat would strike the audience! It startled them… greatly! It was as though something left the imaginary world of the performance and broke through to strike the audience. Truman told me… THAT was the only time (in all his years of directing and attending theater shows) he had ever witnessed the forth wall BROKEN! He also told me, that each and every time it happened, the audience flinched! As if they had been struck! Truman told me it made the play more realistic than any play he had ever attended, and that the fact I was unaware of it happening… just made it more real! He said, the first time it happened, it really scared him! That, for a moment, he was in THAT park WITH that CRAZED man! Truly Albee’esk!

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My final story, from my experience with ‘The Zoo Story’… well, as always, I have saved the best for last! At the ending of the play, ‘Jerry’ pulls out a knife. The knife ends up in the hand of the bystander, sitting on a bench, in the park. ‘Jerry’ grabs the man’s hands, with the knife still clinched, and shoves the knife into his chest! We used a nice stage knife that would stay stuck in my chest after the bystander let go. I had blood packs, under my shirt, near the base of the holder for the stage knife. When I shoved the knife into my chest, I would break the blood packs and get the stage blood all over my hands.

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I would, then, throw my arms back with the knife in my chest… and SCREAM! Falling to my knees, I would deliver the last lines of the play. It was exciting… to say the least! However, as exciting as it was (every night… three times on Sunday) there was ONE NIGHT… that stood out from ALL the rest… and one that I REALLY WISH Edward Albee COULD HAVE BEEN THERE… FOR! It was a hot night, as most of the performances were. I was sweating, just like every other night. However, that night… well, things were… different. The whole play had taken on a surreal quality, for me, it was almost as though… well, it was really happening… TO ME! The audience was on the edge of their seats, and I could feel it all the way down into my toes!

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The final moments of the play had arrived, and the air was so thick (with anticipation and heat) you could cut it with a knife! I pulled my knife… there was the struggle where I let the bystander take the knife from me… he is holding the knife out from his body as defensive… I turn quickly and grab his arms… I thrust the knife into my chest… I stagger… I whip around to face the audience… I SCREAM… and BAM! That is all anyone heard… BAM! Right in front of me… not INCHES from the stage! An older women, easily in the 80’s to 90’s… HAD BLACKED OUT AND FALLEN FLAT ON HER FACE!!!

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I stood there, motionless… the ushers came running from the wings… they picked her up and took her outside, where it was cooler. I fell to my knees, and finished my lines and the play. But, the audience WAS HORRIFIED! NEVER… EVER!!! Never had anything like this had EVER happened before in Alvin, Texas!!!  That’s right, My Dear Shoevians, at the end of “The Zoo Story’ an elderly woman was so terrified (by my performance?) that she BLACKED OUT AND FELL ON HER FACE! … … … I only wish that Mr. Edward Albee had been there for that performance!

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It is a One Act Play that takes about an hour to play out. During that hour, the lead actor, portraying ‘Jerry’, tells a tale – ‘The Story of Jerry and the Dog’. What ‘Jerry’ really is telling is a tale of his own battle with himself… with his sexual identity. Today, in 2016, that may not seem a turgid tale. However, in the early 60’s ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’, well… that is another matter entirely! People in Texas, at that time, did not talk of such things! Gay men were, frequently, beaten and/or killed for ‘showing’ who they were in public. It was 1977, when I portrayed this role, and things had changed little in the backwaters of Texas. My Dear Shoevians, this role was especially poignant, for me, because I had yet to come to grips with my own sexuality. So, here is a closeted gay man… on a small stage deep in the heart of Texas… portraying a gay man… committing suicide on stage!

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https://static01.nyt.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=1247463606959

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My Dear Readers that was my experience with Mr. Albee’s work. Later, my sophomore year at A.C.C., I wrote a paper on ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf’. That is a tale of an aging power couple at a small university. If you have not seen the film, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, you SHOULD!

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf - Burton & Taylor on Set

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf – Burton & Taylor on Set

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Through out Edward Albee’s life he worked to make his audiences “uncomfortable” while watching his work. He felt that theater “Should make audiences uncomfortable” because there was already a medium that wrote and performed works to make people comfortable in their lives and it was called television.

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Mr. Albee’s works challenged my view of; myself, the people I grew up with, the people of our country. Without his work… my life would have been quite bereft of any understanding or self-awareness. For that, I am forever in your debt, Mr. Albee!

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Adieu!

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Thank you!

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Daniel Hanning- Writer, Research Staff, Editor and Publisher of The Other Shoe

Daniel Hanning- Writer, Research Staff, Editor and Publisher of The Other Shoe

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© 2010 – 2016 Hanning Web Wurx and The Other Shoe

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[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Franklin_Albee_II

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/video/multimedia/1247463606959/the-last-word-edward-albee.html?smid=pl-share

 

[3] ibid

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/video/multimedia/1247463606959/the-last-word-edward-albee.html?smid=pl-share

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Albee

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Albee

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About Daniel Hanning
I am a; writer, editor and publisher. I write, most often, articles about our space program, fun videos andpolitical works. My most recent additions are; A Week In Review, Sunday Funnies and The Adventures of Nadia. Along with The Mars Report and Lost in Space. ENJOY!

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