The American playwright Edward Albee's greatest glories came early in his career. When his first play, The Zoo Story, debuted in Provincetown, Mass., in 1960, he was called, as Gussow (cultural writer for the New York Times) puts it here, ""our homegrown equivalent of Beckett."" After his masterpiece, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was staged in 1962, Albee was heralded as the voice of his generation. Then came two decades of debilitating alcoholism and commercial and critical flops. However, his most recent play, 1997's Pulitzer Prize-winning Three Tall Women, has returned him to the spotlight. In this biography, Gussow demonstrates that Albee's life has always been riven with contradictions. The playwright's youth--born in 1928, he was the adopted son of an extremely laconic owner of a chain of vaudeville theaters--was unhappy. Perhaps as a result, Albee has always been drawn to idyllic images of family life in literature. Still, in his extensive interviews with Gussow, he describes his own escape from marriage and ""two-and a half kids"" with great relief. ""What did I think I was doing?"" Albee asks of his brief engagements. ""I was going to bed with boys from age thirteen on and enjoyed it greatly."" Nonetheless, Albee is still fuming about '60s critics who questioned his ability to understand family life, pigeonholing him as a ""homosexual"" writer whose female characters are either misogynistic travesties or stand-ins for male lovers. A friend and ex-lover of Albee's once complained of ""forever trying to penetrate your iron curtain."" Here, Gussow adroitly accomplishes that feat, never shying away from the complexities of the elusive playwright's troubled personality and his still potent artistic vision. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 08/02/1999 Release date: 08/01/1999 Genre: Nonfiction
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