THE BELIEVER: Let’s talk about two people sitting on a park bench in The Zoo Story. One of them ends up impaling himself on a knife. That’s kind of shocking.
EDWARD ALBEE: It is?
BLVR: Were you not shocked by it?
EA: Shocking in what context?
EA: To whom?
BLVR: To the audience.
EA: Oh. Oh, yeah. Sure.
BLVR: I’m also wondering, why didn’t Peter leave?
EA: There would have been no fucking play.
BLVR: How do you keep two people talking?
EA: I don’t. They keep themselves talking.
BLVR: Do you feel like these characters are entities—
EA: They are three-dimensional, live people. They’re not characters.
BLVR: You don’t see them as any kind of aspect of yourself?
EA: No. I do not.
BLVR: Do you think that’s unrealistic?
EA: I think that’s foolishness on the part of the playwright to write about himself. People don’t know anything about themselves. They shouldn’t write about themselves.
BLVR: That strikes me as interesting, because your biography was written in such a way that it seemed to be saying—
EA: I didn’t write it.
BLVR: I know, but Mel Gussow said that your plays were your journals, in a way. Would you agree with that?
EA: Did I ever say that?
BLVR: You didn’t say that. Mel did.
EA: Well, ask him.
BLVR: He’s not around anymore.
EA: I know. I can’t answer for him. He said lots of things in that book that I don’t totally find valid.
EA: ’Course. He tried too much connective tissue. All people who write about playwrights do that. I mean, I do not invent characters. There they are. That’s who they are. That’s their nature. They talk and they behave the way they want to behave. I don’t have a character behaving one way, then a point comes in the play where the person has to either stay or leave. If I had it plotted that the person leaves, then the person leaves. If that’s what the person wants to do. I let the person do what the person wants or has to do at the time of the event.
BLVR: Would you say you write character-driven plots?
EA: What else could they be driven by?
BLVR: Some playwrights seem to want the plot to supersede whatever the characters’ motivations are.
EA: Define plot.
BLVR: What happens in a play.
EA: “What happens in a play?” That’s the plot. OK. What does that have to do with the behavior of the characters?
BLVR: I guess that’s my question to you. Do you find that you have a plot in mind or that the characters’ motivations are driving the plot?
EA: I get some interesting people together, and I see what happens to them. Whether I have determined from before I start writing what is going to happen specifically? Not totally. What if that’s not the nature of the characters? I find out more about the characters. What if they want to behave differently? I give them their head to the extent that it fits into what I want to happen. It’s too complicated to simplify. What happens in a play is determined to a certain extent by what I thought might be interesting to have happen before I invented the characters, before they started taking over what happened, because they are three-dimensional individuals, and I cannot tell them what to do. Once I give them their identity and their nature, they start writing the play.
BLVR: Do they leave mysteries to you? Do you know everything there is to know about all of your plays?
EA: What do you mean? You want to talk about all the plays at once?
BLVR: You don’t have to.
EA: I keep asking questions.
BLVR: I noticed that.
EA: I’m trying to find out what we’re talking about.
BLVR: So, the characters take over, as you’re writing it.
EA: They have to. How else can they be three-dimensional people?
BLVR: And when you come to the end of it, do you find that there are questions left in the play that you, Edward Albee, don’t know the answers to?
EA: Give me an example of a question I wouldn’t know the answer to.
BLVR: Why did Peter not leave?
EA: Because he’s been sitting there talking with Jerry for a long time. He’s become mesmerized by the environment, by the situation, by everything that’s going on. That’s why he doesn’t leave. If I as a playwright thought, With logic, he would leave now; he wouldn’t stick around, then I’d have him leave. I’d write another play instead. I don’t remember ever saying, “No, I have to keep him around for certain plot ideas.” I don’t think in those terms. These turn into real people with their own minds and their own answers and their own questions.
BLVR: So back to my question: do you have any questions about your own plays that you feel remain unanswered?
EA: Well, you go into rehearsal, when directors and actors start asking all sorts of unnecessary questions, because they don’t understand half of it—the nature of the characters. Almost all of those answers, if the play is well constructed, are answered during rehearsal. You solve all those problems. Sometimes it’s because the actor doesn’t understand the character. Then you fire the actor and get another one who will understand what’s going on. There may be lots of questions that anybody—an actor or a director or anybody—can ask about a character in a play of mine that are not answered in the play, but if it’s a question thatI don’t think is relevant, I don’t bother about it. There’s no reason to ask it.
BLVR: Tiny Alice, for instance. It seemed like a lot of people were confused by it.
EA: A lot of people are confused by “hello.” A lot of people are confused by a lot of things they shouldn’t be confused by.
BLVR: You don’t find it confusing?
EA: No. If I found it confusing, I would have de-confused it. I found it sometimes a little obscure, a little difficult, but shouldn’t something go on in a play besides simple, straightforward statements?
BLVR: I like that.
EA: Me too. A lot of people don’t. But that’s their problem, not mine.