UBC Theses and Dissertations
Games of Edward Albee Wallace, Robert Stanley
Edward Albee's concern with the illusions people use to escape the external facts of their lives has prompted the emphasis on games in his plays. His use of such games, as well as the word "game" itself, presupposes an interest in game-playing concepts which has become increasingly obvious over the past ten years. Such concepts emphasize both the necessity of illusions in constructing and dealing with life and the necessity for awareness of such illusions if they are to be creatively managed. Albee extends these ideas in his plays both through the characters' game-playing and the structure of the plays themselves. By drawing attention to the dramatic illusion, Albee utilizes the play as a game and illustrates the significance that an awareness of illusion can achieve. At the same time, he extends the characters' game-playing into the dramatic structure, demonstrating his tacit understanding of the relationship between form and content in a work of art. Chapter One outlines the game-playing concepts that are the backbone of Albee's plays and discusses the ways by which Albee extends these concepts into the play-form itself. Basic to the audience's awareness of the dramatic illusion is its intermittent alienation from it. Such alienation is facilitated by Albee's deliberate confusion of theatrical conventions which prevents the audience from relegating his plays to any definite dramatic tradition. Chapter Two examines four of Albee's one-act plays: The Sandbox, The American Dream, The Death of Bessie Smith, and The Zoo Story. In The Sandbox and The American Dream, the characters' game-playing receives its most exaggerated treatment: correspondingly, these plays represent Albee's most obvious use of the play as a game. In The Death of Bessie Smith, the manipulation of the theatrical experience is not as important as the development of the Nurse as the first of Albee's neurotic females. The Nurse's inability to use games to escape successfully from her frustration with life provides the play with its dramatic centre and makes an important point about game-playing: awareness of games and illusion must at times be overcome if games are to provide real management of life. This theme is further developed in The Zoo Story in which Jerry's attack on Peter's illusions about life serve to illustrate his own inability to communicate. In Chapter Three, the games George and Martha play with themselves and their guests in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are analyzed as a means of comprehending more fully Albee's prerequisites for individual and social survival. The criticism of the "American Scene" that Albee begins in The Sandbox and The American Dream is here more fully developed, the family continuing as his basic metaphor for contemporary American society. The play represents Albee's most complex use of the play as a game, the set and dialogue providing a naturalistic foil for the "interruptive" techniques borrowed from other dramatic traditions. Finally, Chapter Four deals with A Delicate Balance, Albee's most recent full-length, play, excluding his adaptations. Although game-playing is not as marked in this play as in the earlier ones, it still is central to the characters' illusions about family and friendship and to the play's overall structure. Moreover, the "balance" that Agnes maintains between awareness of her illusions and abandonment to them suggests a resolution to the problems surrounding game-playing that Albee probes in his earlier work. Such a resolution demands an awareness of illusion and a management of games so that they may best serve the game-player.