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Thursday, February 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Edward Albee on the state of theater — and lazy Americans

Seattle Times theater critic

Edward Albee, who turns 78 next month, is one of the last surviving members of a generation of dramatists who had a profound effect on America's theatrical life during the past half-century.

But don't consign Albee to the rocking chair or golf course yet — if ever. Still writing new works, overseeing revivals of his older scripts and mentoring younger scribes, the New York-based author also continues to speak out openly on artistic, political or other matters.

Albee will hold forth tonight in Tacoma, where he is giving a talk at the University of Puget Sound. And in a recent interview, the celebrated author of "The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" chatted about various topics with his usual tart wit and uncompromising candor.

Q: We've lost several major American playwrights recently: August Wilson, Wendy Wasserstein, Arthur Miller. What effect will that have on American drama, do you think?

A: Any loss of that sort leaves us diminished. But we have to find other people to take over. And we usually do.

Q: You know, August Wilson was based in Seattle for 15 years. Did you like his plays?

A: I admired them variously. The most important thing was that August was able to complete his [10-play] cycle. He was working through some problems as a dramatist, but he was an important force. And I liked being with him a lot.

Coming up

Edward Albee lecture, 8 tonight at Schneebeck Concert Hall on the University of Puget Sound campus, Tacoma, $10 (253-879-3419) .

Q: What about your closer contemporary, Arthur Miller? Your writing styles were very different.

A: Arthur and I spent a lot of time together on political activities, because we've both been activists. We marched in front of the Soviet Embassy in New York to protest the USSR's treatment of writers, and agreed on a great number of other things.

The fact that I preferred Chekhov [as a playwriting model] and he preferred Ibsen didn't affect that.

Q: Do you look at the younger crop of playwrights and feel heartened by them?

A: The problem is not quality, the problem is an audience that isn't willing to go with them when their writing is tough and experimental. Also, most serious playwrights are interested in criticizing society. And most people who go to the theater these days don't want to be criticized. Although they probably deserve to be.

Q: How do you think the new emphasis on digital and home entertainment is impacting theater?

A: All this mechanization is making people lazier and lazier. People are going to be less willing to get off their asses, get out of their comfortable chairs and sit in an uncomfortable theater chair. And be criticized!

Q: What's your most common advice to the younger writers you work with?

A: I try to stop them from becoming safe and popular — except for the ones who really want to go into movies.

Q: How was it working with David Esbjornson, the new artistic director of Seattle Repertory Theatre, when he directed the Broadway premiere of your Tony-winning play "The Goat" a couple years ago?

A: I like David. He respects playwrights, and that's a good beginning. He's intelligent, sensitive and tough as a director. But most importantly he respects playwrights.

Q: Do you two have any plans for future projects?

A: We're discussing the possibility of doing an older play of mine, "The Lady from Dubuque" at the Rep. (Note: Seattle Rep confirms the play is under consideration for a future season.)

Q: And what else is coming up for you?

A: I'm going to have a play done in London again, at the Donmar Warehouse, this fall. And I'll have a new play in New York in 2007 if I can finish it. [Chuckles.] And if I can ever get off the phone ...

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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