Albee and Whitman with the Woolfs

whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolf-title-screen

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf

When the morning comes….

Edward Albee’s 1962 play’s title Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf comes from a play on words of the 1933 Disney song, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Already mixing dark comedy and literature with the very title, Albee’s play is a hallmark of absurdist theatre. The drama describes the emotional and psychological instability of a couple’s wasting marriage. Hailed as a revolution for drama at the time, it won two awards within the first five years of production. Some critics then say it polarized audiences; some lauded its themes and creative use of tension, while others found it perverse through its sexual and explicit content. And this theme of polarization is what I find key to describing Edward Albee.

Albee is an out proud gay man, known as an accomplished playwright even before WAoVW, but he is most remembered for it due to its raw details. And it is these raw details, written with the intensity of a melodrama that put Albee into question. The campiness of the play and the writer’s sexuality led some critics to read the characters as stand-ins for gay relationships. The play as a metaphor for the ‘absurd’ trials and tribulations homosexual couple’s face and create themselves. At first, I was just going to archive that- the play as a thought that queer agency was created on stage before it was condoned, even if it was obscured. But through more research I discovered Albee’s total refusal to classify Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as queer literature. His stance is even more controversial considering his advocacy for civil rights and LGTBA understanding, but he deems his art to not be affected or analyzed by his sexuality. As Albee accepted his award at the 23rd annual Lambda Literary Awards, he is quoted in his speech saying “a writer who happens to be gay or lesbian must be able to transcend self. I am not a gay writer, I am a writer who happens to be gay.” This remark was met with disgruntlement or abject fury by the audience, his words seen as a dismissal of self and the gay identity. I kind of agree with Albee though in the same vein of the argument Hogan and Caskie make about Sam Smith.

It is the new wave quiet activism, how ‘gay’ can be a part of your reality but not the whole of it. Albee is later quoted commenting to NPR about the negative reactions as “so many writers who are gay are expected to behave like gay writers and I find that is such a limitation and prejudicial thing that I fight against it whenever I can.” His remarks remind me about our class debate on whether or not Whitman was gay. Albee is most assuredly, but that sexuality-identity connection to art is still questioned the same across generations. Does it affect Whitman’s poetry if he was gay? It affects the way we view him now, the way we have archived him in the queer history, but we argued about whether or not he would accept such a classification. Albee, unlike Whitman, is aware of the connotations of the word ‘gay’ but still contests such a distinction to be necessary. I am aware I am archiving Albee the same way history has archived Whitman, but we all should note that neither has agreed to it. Albee can be in queer history because he is a gay man making art, but his work should not critiqued only through that lens. As with Sam Smith, the man is not the art and the stories are not the same. ‘The body is political’ is denied by these artists, for the sake of their works meaning not be marginalized or pigeon-holed into outdated stereo-types of queer art. There is current Queer art, the same way there is Black art and Women’s Art; its existence cannot be denied or forgotten, but it is not all-inclusive and it is not all-political. It can be remembered, as I am making this so archiving it, but it must be remembered with all its origins and all its meanings intact.

 

Sarah Caskie, “Sam Smith: Musician on the Rise,” Contemporary Queer Culture hosted by Sites@PSU, last modified April 2, 2015, https://sites.psu.edu/245spring2015/2015/04/02/sam-smith-musician-on-the-rise/.

Leave a Reply