The most balanced and well-written assessment of Edward Albee came from Terry Teachout, the Wall Street Journal's drama critic.
Albee, who witnessed Broadway triumphs, failures and comebacks during a long career, died last week at 88. His swings in popularity after early success mirror those of other American playwrights, such as Tennessee Williams.
Unlike The New York Times' embarrassingly effusive Albee obituary and appreciation by prolix lead critic Ben Brantley, Teachout pointed out that Albee wrote some bad plays as well as the masterpiece "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf."
While Albee cast blame on New York critics and the deterioration of Broadway's acceptance of serious theater, Teachout unlike the Times asserts that Albee's downfalls were the result of ill-conceived plots and clunky writing.
Teachout's measured, dispassionate language was a welcome antidote to the Times' critic-speak, which seems like computer-programmed English.
One of the best performances I've ever seen and one of the worst came from Albee plays.
An Alliance Theater production of "Virginia Woolf" starred noted playwright and actor Tracy Letts as George, with the late Margo Skinner as Martha.
While Letts strikingly portrayed the character he later played again on Broadway, Skinner's Martha stands as one of the best performances I've seen. In those days, Atlanta's Alliance strove to produce memorable theater instead of serving as the incubator of mediocre Broadway musicals.
Alas, I witnessed a shockingly bad performance of Albee's "A Zoo Story," an ill-conceived amalgam of two of his plays, at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. That was one of the few performances that tempted me to throw rotten apples at the stage.
While "Virginia Woolf" has achieved classic status, I wonder if it will remain vital for future generations. The play, made into a dreary movie starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, is a defining artifact of the early '60s. With changed roles of men and women and different attitudes about marriage, the play looks creaky and outmoded, although its language holds its power.