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“Form and content codetermine one another,” and when I call attention to the play’s effortless movement between the illusion of realism and the casual breaking of that illusion, he describes it as “no different from the Greeks, with their choruses.” But the seams here are invisible, and the cumulative effect is to draw the audience directly into the play and its dramatic commentary on time passing, on the inevitable wounds of living, on the heroic necessity of acceptance. It’s also worth emphasizing that, as Albee insists, bare summary of the small narrative does not do justice to the play; in the contrapuntal structure of the dialogue, a careful listener may hear the verbal equivalents of the melodies, themes, harmonies, dissonances, and unsummarizable consolations of music. Acouple of weeks before the opening, Albee, cast, and crew are in a small rehearsal room in the Alley’s maze-like basement. The dress code is workshop casual, and the director’s coordinated shirt and slacks is the group’s sole gesture at elegance. The set is two plastic chairs, stage center, and since David Burtka is ill today the rehearsal focuses exclusively on the scenes featuring Seldes and Hyman, with Rebecca Harris and a crew member taking part briefly as needed. The dialogue is mostly there, but still uneven; a script assistant intermittently delivers a line or two at moments of confusion, or whenever an awkward pause lasts a beat too long. Albee, sitting at a table stage front, from memory quietly corrects a reading here and there, or steps up to offer a bit of business when something’s not quite right: the Man needs to be a step further front; the Woman needs to be a bit more bemused and attentive when the young couple run nakedly across the stage, giggling; let’s try the Watteau parasol closed, and see if that’s better \(by dress rehearsal a to know what I do, do.” Much of what’s going on for the actors seems quite interior: working and reworking the lines for precision, and trying to get lines and characters thoroughly down into their memories and spirits. It’s an almost choreographed but still very private conversation, and nobody’s worried about projection. In this workmanlike atmosphere, one quietly acerbic line delivered by Hyman garners a satisfied Albee smile: “I don’t see many of you [blind people] at plays. Deaf, yes. Blind, no.” The casual atmosphere will change in the afternoon, when the cast gets its first opportunity to move upstairs, onto the Alley’s Large Stage. The finished set is still simple now the two chairs are framed by flanking pairs of large, rectangular screens but instead of seeming smaller in this cavernous space, the actors and the ‘play appear suddenly larger. While Albee moves about the empty theater checking for sound quality, Hyman and Seldes move efficiently back into their scenes and seem to grow in assurance and authority even memory. Their readings become more precise and assured, their movements clearer, and the speeches gain momentum. By the play’s final moments, which call for Seldes and Hyman to tower Woman appear to be avenging angels, come to wreak havoc on these willfully unsuspecting innocents. Later, I ask Seldes how it is that moving onto the stage seemed to add immediate vigor to the rehearsal. “Oh, I feel so safe there,” she says. “And once you start to know Edward’s lines, they have a real power. His words are like bullets, like darts or sometimes like caresses. You can’t say the wrong word, because there’s no other word to say. You can’t fill in your own word, even the same number of syllables. And if you fol low his punctuation, which is so specific, the rhythms will come.” Over an afternoon meal at another New York import, the nearby Angelika Caf, Albee is cheerful and friendly, satisfied with the state of the production, although characteristically wary of imposing too much external interpretation on his plays. While no longer quite the golden boy of his Village youth, Albee remains compact, wiry, visibly fit and distinctively handsome. He has the calm of a man at ease with himself, and the alert air of someone always ready to be amused at life. There is also something bird-like in his mannerisms and his almost whispery speech delivered through barely moving lips, and in his habit of peering bookishly over the tops of his spectacles. Gazing across the table, with his gray mane and moustache, he can be impishly reminiscent of Merlin in the animated version of The Once and Future King. The glasses and his paired hearing aids are his only concessions to age; a couple of years ago, he says, he finally tired of asking friends to repeat themselves. Albee bristles at over-literal as well as over-symbolic interpretations of his work, and at facile recent attempts to see every new play in terms of what he’s already written. Asked if the baby here might recall the blonde “bumble of joy” of The American Dream, he is adamant. “The baby in this play has absolutely nothing to do with any of the babies in my previous plays. Some idiot suggested it’s like the baby in Virginia Woolf. This play is about a couple that has a real child; Virginia Woolf is about a couple that has an imaginary child. Why is he drawing parallels that aren’t there? It’s sloppy thinking.” Yet he readily concedes that he finds himself returning to persistent themes. Noting that one of the questions addressed in the new play is whether “reality is determined by our need,” he says, “Go back to Zoo Story: what is the nature of our created realities, of our not wanting to be interfered with, in the realities we’ve created…. And my basic concerns remain: not lying to oneself, participating fully in one’s life, not closing down these things have pretty much stayed with me throughout my writing life. And looking at behavior that will be tolerated and behavior that will not be tolerated: what society is all about.” If he’s reluctant to be drawn into a game of explanation \(“If I could restate the plays in a few sentences, there would seem to be tion about the state of the literary culture, about the predicament of the commercial theater, about national politics. He is a lifelong and forthrightly self-described liberal Democrat, active for many years in national and international writers’ organizations, speaking out on behalf of human rights and against censorship. His theater colleagues point eagerly to his work with students, not just in his formal classes at U.H. but in lectures across the country. In a note struck by several friends, Alley managing director Paul Tetrault says that for him Albee is distinguished by “his kindness, and by his willingness to give back to young people…. I think he feels a responsibility about imparting some of what he has learned, and the knowledge and expertise that he has accumulated, to give that back. There are many great artists,” says Tetrault, “who don’t have that sense of responsibility.” To Albee himself, it is also a matter of principle: he insists that education which neglects the fine arts is inadequate, indeed dangerous. In speech last year at the Guthrie 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 28, 2000