Trip Slaymaker ’18
Arts and Entertainment Editor
This week, Trinity mourns the passing of one of its most cherished former students, the playwright Edward Albee. Initially recognized for the organic and often biting dialogue that appears in his most famous works, Albee is now regarded as one of the great playwrights of the second half of the twentieth century. Plays like The Zoo Story, The Sandbox, and A Delicate Balance are popular choices for contemporary theater, and Albee’s most famous
play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, was adapted in 1966 to the classic film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Born in 1928, Albee was adopted into a wealthy New York family. He was raised in a circuit of preparatory schools, starting anew whenever he was expelled. Finally at college age, Albee came to Trinity in the autumn of 1946. Though he was likely experiencing early flashes of creativity, Albee had little drive to work on his studies. He was expelled from Trinity after only a year, as a result of skipping classes and declining to attend chapel, which was mandatory at the time.
Though his rift with the College would never be mended, Albee had left Trinity and stepped into his new life as a playwright. Around age twenty, he arrived in Greenwich Village and began to study writing. His time as a young man in New York lay the foundation for his writing aesthetic and saw him start down the path that would lead to his great works. Albee was producing plays and advocating for American theater throughout the 1950’s, but did not become monetarily wealthy or well-known by name until after 1962, with the premiere of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The play takes place in a professor’s home on the campus of a small New England liberal-arts college that some have interpreted as Albee’s sketch of Trinity, the college he attended in his youth.
It examines the breakdown of the marriage of an aging couple, George and Martha. The two play host to a younger couple late at night after a faculty party. The night begins to devolve into a drunken emotional rampage as the older couple draw the young pair into their neuroses.
After the play became known, the young playwright was recognized in many circles as relentlessly intelligent and always several steps ahead in conversation. His wit was matched by an empathetic heart and a tendency toward less than diligent working habits. The immediacy of his personality helped to spread his name and work.
Albee met and fell in love with a sculptor named Jonathan Thomas in 1971, who remained his partner until Thomas’s death in 2005. This marriage of more than thirty years was the central relationship of Albee’s life. Though he tended to avoid the perceived restrictions of being known only as a “gay writer,” Albee was openly gay throughout his career. He was a firsthand witness to the milestones of the gay rights movement and provided a key voice in understanding their importance.
Albee’s later life saw his renown as a dramatist continue to grow, and he began to work as a professor at the University of Houston. Even in his seventies, Albee was producing high quality plays, such as The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? which premiered in 2003 and won Albee his final Tony award.
During his life, Edward Albee was the recipient of three Pulitzer Prizes, and three Tony Awards. He spent only a year at Trinity, but if the school had any effect on his mind at all, then Trinity has an important place in the history of theater. The fact that the great playwright Edward Albee walked the paths each student walks today is a reminder that we are all part of the same long history. He will be missed and remembered clearly across generations of Trinity students.
Trip Slaymaker ’18