Broadway’s August Wilson Theatre was filled Tuesday afternoon with friends, fans and colleagues of Edward Albee, who died September 16 at 88. Onstage to recall the much-laureled author of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and other plays were actors Brian Murray, Rosemary Harris, Maureen Anderman, Jane Alexander, Peter Francis James, and Jordan Baker; playwrights Terrence McNally, Arthur Kopit, Will Eno and John Guare; Bill Irwin, Mercedes Ruehl, Bill Pullman; playwright and director Emily Mann; and director David Esbjornson.
Many on the stage had lifelong associations with Albee, going back to his early days and the off-Broadway production of The Zoo Story that launched his career. Actor Brian Murray recalled meeting him at a party in Albee’s honor hosted by Noël Coward, who spent much time stroking Albee’s hair and then said, “Edward dear, you’re a very brilliant young playwright. But that haircut is very silly.”
Guare said Albee “has been at the moral center of my life” since first seeing The Zoo Story. “You can’t imagine the shock of Edward’s debut.”
Ruehl, who co-starred with Pullman in Albee’s intensely provocative 2002 drama The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, called Albee “tough” above all. Performing in the work, about a married man who has an affair with a goat, Ruehl recalled that she and Pullman received threats from outraged theater-goer during the run. One night she told the playwright, “Edward, do you realize that every night, we actors risk our lives in the service of your play?”
Albee responded, “Do you realize that every night I risk my play in the service of you actors?”
Noting Albee’s roller-coaster career, and especially the long period before Three Tall Women won him the last of his three Pulitzer Prizes in 1994, as well as the deaths of many of his most beloved friends, partners and colleagues, Ruehl added, “Edward had the capacity to endure the…” she struggled for the word before settling on, “void of pure loneliness.”