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Backstage With Albee

Stage manager Mark Wright reflects on his work with the master playwright-director.

If there is more than one Edward Albee, actor Tom Klunis knows the most recent one, and production stage manager Mark Wright knows them all.

Klunis acted in the 1987 world premiere of Marriage Play in Vienna, its January 1992 American premiere at Houston’s Alley Theatre, and a 1986 mounting at the Alley of Albee’s chamber plays Counting the Ways. Wright, as stage manager for 20 years for producer and Albee champion Richard Barr, goes back to Albee’s very beginnings: In January 1960 he stage managed the American premiere of the then-31-year-old playwright’s The Zoo Story, and since then has worked on productions of The American Dream, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Delicate Balance, Seascape, Tiny Alice, Malcolm and the recent Alley-McCarter coproduction of Marriage Play.

For Wright, it’s difficult to chart personal changes in his longtime collaborator and friend. “Edward has always been a little leprechaun,” he insists. “He’s always been impish. He’s always had not only a clever but a very satirical response to almost anything. And, as often as we have worked together, and as intimately as we know one another out of the theatre he’s always been a very private person.”

But Wright detects a clear professional change—for the better. “It has come through his broader role in the theatre—through his accepting the responsibilities of a director, both of his own work and that of other playwrights, especially Beckett. Now he satisfies himself as a playwright better when he directs than when somebody else directs. That’s growing as an artist, it seems to me.”

Like Arthur Miller, Albee has chosen to unveil his most recent scripts in Europe rather than his homeland. Marriage Play has been performed in Vienna and Stockholm, but Albee felt the play was “not really done” until it was done in front of an American audience, Wright says. “The responses in Vienna were not totally different, but much more minimal” than those in Houston. From Klunis’s onstage perspective, “We never got the laughs [in Vienna that] we got here.”

Again like Miller, Albee has not had a successful play on Broadway for some years, a circumstance Wright attributes to critics and theatregoers “who lie in wait for anyone who has had a terrific reputation. That is the contemporary cult of the personality. We won’t let anyone out of the box we’ve put them in—or off the pedestal we’ve put them on.”

Future audiences will have plenty of opportunity to reassess Albee’s career, Wright predicts, because it’s far from over. “I think Edward is going to live to a ripe old age and we can expect to see plays from him for as long as he can hold a yellow pad and use his right arm.”

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