Edward Albee — the ferocious playwright and complicated, tender man — was celebrated Tuesday by writers, actors, directors, producers and friends at a moving memorial at the August Wilson Theatre.
Albee, author of more than 30 plays, including his Tony-winning “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” died in September at his Montauk home. He was 88.
“He died listening to the ocean, his favorite sound,” said playwright and longtime friend Terrence McNally, who also described the three-time Pulitzer winner’s commitment to the next generation of playwrights as “bordering on obsession.”
Playwright John Guare said Albee was “at the moral center of my life” ever since Guare saw “The Zoo Story,” Albee’s first play, in 1960. Mercedes Ruehl, who originated the role of a woman whose husband fell in love with a goat in the unflinching 2002 Tony winning “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?,” described her vital, witty, purposefully cranky friend as “ . . . tough. If he called something tough, it was high praise.”
Actors long associated with Albee’s work read significant portions from his plays, including Brian Murray from “The Play About the Baby” and Richard Thomas and Jane Alexander from “The Lady from Dubuque.” Rosemary Harris read a poem that Albee, a passionate animal lover, wrote from the point of view of his late Irish wolfhound, Samantha.
Many people mentioned the “twinkle” in Albee’s eye that belied his contrarian reputation. Jakob Holder, a young playwright who was Albee’s personal assistant for 15 years, joked that it wasn’t a twinkle. Rather, Albee was able to “weaponize his eyeballs.”
With a photo of Albee smiling wryly in triplicate over the stage, the afternoon began with a tape of Albee warning us to turn off our cellphones and ended with his voice reminding us to listen to life “in case that’s all there is.”