In my early twenties, I wrote this letter to Edward Albee, my favorite playwright, thanking him for writing, and though the letter itself now feels puerile in ways, I am certain that I still could not come up with better words to describe how much his plays meant to me. I can’t believe he won’t pen any more insightful, incisive, utterly absurd plays. His plays truly changed my life, and I’m so grateful. Rest easy, sir.
When I was sixteen, my high school English teacher gave me a copy of The Zoo Story. At first, it baffled me – I felt a heart-wrenching empathy, but I didn’t understand it. I devoured a number of your other works, trying to reconcile these emotions. When I had the chance to see Peter and Jerry at Second Stage Theater as a 20 year old, I thought I started to understand.
At the time, I was an undergraduate in a film and theater studies program, and I clearly remember a class in which we discussed the early work of Todd Haynes. In an interview, he spoke about the role of “deviance” in his films. He talked of exploring what threatens people’s sense of normalcy, and this struck me as a lens through which I could view your work. Sitting front row center at Second Stage, I watched Jerry threaten to bring the conventional structure of Peter’s world crashing to the ground.
I think that is when I understood why I love your plays so much. In them I see that the surface absurdities are masking pathos and earnestness, reveling in the ridiculous that which threatens the comfort of our world’s established social constructs. Of course, I can’t presume I understand what your intentions were while writing, but I don’t believe that my interpretations are invalid. This is my lengthy way of saying that your work has profoundly affected my attitude toward and general perspective of the human condition, and I could never effectively express my gratitude to you for helping me grow in the ways I have.
Ever since reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces, I’ve firmly believed that the work of an artist is the work of a hero. Campbell’s hero looks deep within himself, identifies the demons of dream and myth that we avoid because they threaten our security and comfort, and in tackling them, he discovers his true self. Upon resurfacing, the hero becomes something better, and then helps the world become better as well. I think it takes courage for an artist to find and destroy such demons and create from the ashes something that will elicit truth through the reaction to it. To then also have the greater courage to share that creation so the world can experience and react to it, makes the artist an undeniable hero.
Thank you, Mr. Albee, for being a hero.