It’s easy to forget how young Edward Albee was when he wrote his first plays, The Zoo Story, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Delicate Balance. Perhaps it was his choice of subjects and types that obscured the New Yorker’s precocity. In a way, Albee was always middle-aged – like his great characters (George, Tobias, Agnes), with their dashed hopes and jaded marriages. Think of Harry and Edna in A Delicate Balance, who crash at Tobias and Agnes’s house one quiet, murderous Friday evening – The Friends Who Came To Stay Forever – and why? because they were frightened (frightened by something nameless). Terror, loathing, disaffection, in Albee’s syntactically lethal world, were the norm. Yet Albee was in his early thirties when he created Martha (greatest of American monsters), with her brilliant zingers about the wreckage of a twenty-year marriage; and not much older when he drove Harry and Edna out into the night looking for more succour than you can find at a country club.
As B. remarks in Three Tall Women, currently being revived at the Golden Theatre in New York under Joe Mantello’s direction, ‘It’s downhill from sixteen on! For all of us!’ She goes on to fantasise about six-year-olds learning about death at the age of six (‘Make ’em aware that they’re dying from the minute they’re alive’). It gets a laugh in the stalls, a queasy laugh.