The documentary film,“The Stages of Edward Albee”, by James Dowell and John Kolomvakis, offers an intimate, accessible, ninety-seven minute glimpse into the life of an American literary giant. Intriguing for fans and non-fans of the theatre, alike, it’s an engaging, lucid homage to the work and persona of a defining voice for 20th century American drama. The film paints a portrait, literally and figuratively, that illuminates playwright Edward Albee’s creative process and dramatizes his formidable impact on artists, colleagues and audiences.
“I love his precision; I love the rhythms of his language in all the plays. If you’re lucky enough to play one of them, you just revel in it–it’s all there.” Marian Seldes
Mention Edward Albee to a room full of theatre buffs, and the conversation may explode with intense emotion. Love him or despise him as a playwright, Albee’s work assaulted American theatre, a tsunami of imagery, themes, unforgettable characters and sweeping transformation. Almost twenty years ago, Dowell and Kolomvakis embarked on the creation of “A New York Triptych” of documentary films examining 20th and 21st century cultural experience, through introspective revelation of aspects of three iconic artists’ lives. They knew they wanted to include the Kennedy Center, Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning playwright Edward Albee, but they weren’t sure how to proceed, or if he would consent to project inclusion.
Riding on the New York subway one day, the men spied Albee sitting directly across from them. With trepidation, they approached. “We planned to try to get in touch with you, but since we saw you here, we thought we’d ask….” They dined with him and a mutual friend, composer and diarist Ned Rorem, who broached the subject of making a film. Numerous interviews were scheduled. Over a seven year period, Dowell and Kolomvakis met with Albee at his rural home in Montauk overlooking the Sound, where he talked casually at length about his life and career and beliefs while James Dowell painted his portrait.
Notable playwrights, colleagues, actors, journalists and personal associates of Albee volunteered their time and energy to share, with enormous candor and passion, their perspectives on his life and artistry. What results on film is a panoramic view of lives greatly impacted by Albee and his work, revealed with remarkable openness, sincerity, humor and respect. The scenes filmed at Albee’s home reflect a life of unexpected tranquility. A microphone mixes in the sweetness of birdsong wafting through open windows and doorways. Albee’s associates clearly wanted to share their experiences of the remarkable playwright; Dowell and Kolomvakis’ congenial demeanor and natural interview style set everyone at ease, allowing for the free flow of heartfelt expression. Viewing the film, one loses all sense of the camera, as if privileged to sit in on the conversations. Nationally recognized stage and film actors perform excerpts from Albee’s works, demonstrating examples of the “stages” of creation referred to in the title. Interviews feature playwrights John Guare, Tony Kushner and Terrence McNally, as well as respected actors Rosemary Harris, Bill Pullman, Bill Irwin, Judith Ivey, Kathleen Turner and Marian Seldes. Pullmann, Irwin, Turner and Seldes perform readings from “The Zoo Story” (1958), “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (1962) and “Three Tall Women” (1990 -1991).
“The Stages of Edward Albee” has its World Premiere Saturday, September 29, 2012 at 1:45pm as part of the 25th Annual Dallas Video Festival at the Dallas Museum of Art’s Horchow Auditorium. The website www.videofest.org, describes the Dallas Video Festival as “one of the oldest nonprofit film festivals in the US…and focuses on independent, experimental, and short films, as well as alternative documentaries, animation, and more”. Many filmmakers attend the screenings and offer commentary afterwards. Dowell and Kolomvakis will attend the September 29 screening.
The Video Festival of Dallas runs September 26 – 30, 2012.
“The Stages of Edward Albee” represents the final third of the nineteen year film project odyssey A New York Triptych. The project also examines the lives and work of poet, novelist and collage artist Charles Henri Ford in ”Sleep in a Nest of Flames” and Pulitzer prize-winning composer and diarist Ned Rorem in “Ned Rorem: Word & Music”.
As run in abbreviated form on TheaterJones.com