Who's Afraid of Edward Albee?

Albee wants his plays done right.

Imagine conducting a classic symphony while the composer himself looks on. That's exactly the pressure directors Gregory Boyd and Pam McKinnon will face when Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? open at the Alley Theatre this month. Both works were written by Houston playwright Edward Albee.

Albee has collaborated with the directors on both productions, having his say about the casting, the set and their interpretations of the plays.

Many playwrights choose not to participate in productions of their work. But Albee, as Boyd says, is "a man of the theater" who's had a long relationship with the Alley. The double bill celebrates Albee's 75th birthday.

"To have [Albee] in the room bodily," says Boyd, who's directing Woolf, "is a once-in-a-lifetime experience." Boyd, the Alley's artistic director, has been an Albee fan since he was a teenager and deems the playwright's story about one drunken evening in the lives of two couples to be "inarguably a masterpiece."

The Goat, Albee's new play about, among other things, a man who falls in love with a goat, won the 2002 Tony Award for Best Play and has become a Broadway hit.

"It definitely adds pressure…I mean, he's Edward Albee," says McKinnon, the director of The Goat. "But it's also exciting because he's Edward Albee…If an actor is making a choice that [Albee] hadn't thought about, he certainly won't squash it immediately…There's not a narrow way to do it right, but there are definitely ways to do it wrong."

McKinnon says that sometimes a director's minor changes in staging or intonation can throw off the logical progression of an Albee play. "The plays are exacting," she says, "whether he's there or not."

Still, Albee's presence certainly doesn't hurt. "He's the expert," says Boyd. "He wrote the damn play."


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