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ON THE PLAY
Without attempting to enthrone Albee alongside anyone (though I personally admire him above all other Americans now writing for the stage), or to hail Virginia Woolf as a classic of the modern theatre (which I have no doubt it will become), I would only state that, in my experience, a more honest or moral (in the true sense) playwright does not exist- unless it be Samuel Beckett... And if what Albee is doing is giving us a "sentimentalized" view of ourselves rather than one as harshly and starkly unsentimental as any I know, why didn't those theatre party ladies buy it up ahead of time as they do all those other technicolor postcards which pass for plays? Or is Albee not rather dedicated to smashing that rosy view, shocking us with the truth of our present-day behavior and thought, striving to purge us into an actual confrontation with reality?
Alan Schneider, "Why So Afraid?" in Tulane Drama Review, 1963
The upsetting thing- the deeply upsetting thing- is that American theatre-goers and their critics have welcomed this phony play and its writer as the harbinger of a new wave in the American theatre. The American theatre, our theatre, is so hungry, so voracious, so corrupt, so morally blind, so perverse that Virginia Woolf is a success. I am outraged at a theatre and an audience that accepts as a masterpiece an insufferably long play with great pretensions that lacks intellectual size, emotional insight, and dramatic electricity. I'm tired of play-long "metaphors"- such as the illusory child of Virginia Woolf- which are neither philosophically, psychologically, nor poetically valid. I'm tired of plays that are badly plotted and turgidly written being excused by such palaver as "organic unity" or "inner form." I'm tired of morbidity and sexual perversity which are there only to titillate an impotent and homosexual theatre and audience. I'm tired of Albee.
Richard Schechner, "Who's Afraid of Edward Albee?" in Tulane Drama Review, 1963
The characterization of Martha is certainly proof of the author's understanding of the problems of unfulfilled people. The social conditioning which encouraged Martha's thwarted expectations, as well as George's idealism and her childlessness are all realities which contributed to her disappointment and sorrow. However, in spite of the material advantages with which she grew up, Martha, given her loveless childhood- not unlike Jerry in The Zoo Story- entered adult life as an emotional cripple who doubted her worth as a human being. She did nothing constructive to help herself to make life bearable for George or for herself... The residue of her wasted talents and unused energies are released in the form of abusive behavior toward her husband. Her pain makes her ruthlessly egotistical. Fairly considered against her given background, there should be little room for complacency or self-righteousness in an evaluation of this character. If her selfishness and cruelty make her repugnant, her deep unhappiness and almost dumb suffering should arouse compassion.
Anita M. Stenz, Edward Albee: The Poet of Loss, 1978
Whatever the truth about his past really is, George worked it out creatively in the form of a novel. The tragic story of a boy who accidently [sic] shot his mother and then a year later while trying to avoid hitting a porcupine on the road swerved the car and drove his father into a tree. Commentators have interpreted what they perceive as George's withdrawal and passivity as behavior resulting from his responsibility as an adolescent for the death of both parents. More in keeping with the play, whose key phrase spoken throughout by both George and Martha is "Truth and illusion, don't you know the difference?", is the theory that George's killing of his parents is symbolic but that there is real guilt attached to his need to be cruel. This also explains why George waited until it was almost too late before he was able to bring himself to hurt Martha and himself profoundly enough to free them both from the mutually destructive pattern of their married life.
Anita M. Stenz, Edward Albee: The Poet of Loss, 1978
ON GEORGE AND MARTHA
Albee has succeeded in persuading us that Martha, as well as George, is a genuinely pitiable character. Thus one can say that the plot contains a kind of reversal, for while Martha had the upper hand over him in her role of his antagonist during the first two acts, he now has won at the fun-and-games business- but at so considerable a cost as to amount to only a pyrrhic victory. At least, however, they communicate, understand each other, and are together at the curtain. They are nevertheless so weakened by the strain of the exorcism and by the bleak prospect that lies before them that we can only pity both of them. It seems to me that we see in them something of the whole general problem of humanity suffering from forces beyond its control, forces which lie inside us as well as outside us and which make us fearful when we recognize them. Martha's fear, then, is exactly the right note for the terminal effect of this highly indeterminate ending.
Richard E. Amacher, Edward Albee, 1982
ON THE IMAGINARY CHILD
When George and Martha destroy that child they destroy whatever illusions they have created in reaction to a reality that has been responsible for the loneliness they feel. And the reality they try to keep away, by conjuring up a fantasy child, is actually the reality of man's predicament. That is, man- in this very complex and bureaucratic world whose sheer organization is dehumanizing- feels an overwhelming sense of aloneness and separation. His inability to deal effectively with this predicament has left him filled with despair and boredom, for he no longer has the joy of individual creativity, only dependency on an outside power. And when he can no longer create, he begins to destroy, because either activity lifts him out of his insignificance. George and Martha feel this dislocation, almost abandonment, brought on by our modern world- only more so because their marriage is sterile. Consequently, in order to overcome their predicament, they have resorted to the illusion that they are not alone; they have a child who loves them.
Michael Rutenberg, Edward Albee: Playwright in Protest, 1969
ON NICK AND HONEY
Nick and Honey are just starting out and have something of the hopes and energies that George and Martha had when they first came together; but where George failed, Nick might well succeed. He is willful in a petty way, knows exactly what he wants, and is callous enough to reach out and grab it. His plans are clear and realizable. He is much more practical and less idealistic than George, but lacks George's potential to adjust to what the world calls failure. George's failure is incomprehensible to Nick: would anyone, in his right mind, turn down a high administrative post simply to indulge a passion to write the great American novel? The irony is that Nick wants what George had in his grasp and turned down. In this context Nick's designs seem downright petty, while George's worldly failure takes on heroic colors... [Nick] is absolutely callous to [Honey's] emotional needs, bent on humoring her in order to get what he wants. His relationship with Honey is an excellent barometer of his relationship with the rest of the world. He will very likely get everything he wants; but the world will hold his success against him, for his ambition is utterly transparent. George and Martha have understood this and are contemptuous of him, Honey suspects it but cannot bring herself to face the truth.
Anne Paolucci, From Tension to Tonic, 1972
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts