Three Questions on Character for Edward Albee
Interviewed by Travis Baker
Q. Given the constraints placed upon a playwright with regards to creating a character, when so much about the physical aspect is out of your control, what techniques do you use to ensure that the essence of the character you’ve created remains intact not just in a single production, but over time?
A. I’m not sure what degree of physical aspects of a character is out of a playwright’s control. If it is essential somebody be tall, indicate they are tall; if they are short and fat, indicate that; if they are crippled, indicate that; if they are bald, indicate that; indicate hair color if it’s important; indicate quality of clothing (taste), if important. Those are physical aspects and a little advice will go a long way. As for ensuring the essence of the character remains intact, that depends on the ability of the writer to create a character that cannot be easily misinterpreted.
Q: You once mentioned that the actor playing Jerry in the original production of Zoo Story asked if the character had a dog. I believe you said that he did and then, many years later, another actor, Woody Harrelson, asked the same question and you said that he did not. Why the two different answers?
A. In the original production of The Zoo Story , the actor playing Jerry asked me if the character had a dog when he was a child. I thought about the actor playing Jerry and thought it would be good for him, as an actor, if he played Jerry as having had a dog as a kid. When Woody Harrelson played it later…it’s always been difficult for me imagining Woody having anybody, and so I said that no, he did not.
Q. In a Paris Review interview you stated that the names George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf were no accident. How important are names in creating character given that you often name your characters Man, Boy, Husband, Wife, etc.?
A. I did say that naming George and Martha “George and Martha” was no accident. How important are names in creating characters? If you know their names and their names appear in the play, then name them. If the names are not mentioned in the play and there’s no reference to the names anywhere, you don’t need to name them. Why waste characters’ names?