Brief Biography of Edward Albee
Edward Albee, the author of classic family dramas like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Delicate Balance, was no stranger to domestic unhappiness. Adopted soon after his birth by a wealthy young couple, Albee’s parents greeted his artistic aspirations with disinterest and disgust. After cycling through a series of upscale boarding schools, Albee, searching for a community that would welcome him as both an artist and an openly gay man, moved to New York City’s Greenwich Village. It was in the Village that he penned The Zoo Story—the play that, after its 1960 premiere, put Albee on the map as a radically new theatrical voice. Albee followed The Zoo Story with a series of Tony- and Pulitzer-winning successes; though his career waxed and waned, due in part to his struggles with alcoholism, he continued to write critically acclaimed work (like The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?) well into the twenty-first century. Famous for his difficulty as a collaborator, his desire to challenge audiences, and his unusually expansive body of work, Albee was considered one of America’s greatest playwrights by his death in 2016.
Historical Context of The Zoo Story
Albee’s first major plays, The Zoo Story included, were all written in the tense early years of the Cold War, at the tail end of the Eisenhower era (named for then-president Dwight D. Eisenhower). The decade was a time of prosperity for most white Americans, but it also ushered in a new set of social and sexual standards to conform to. Albee is a critic of these standards—which emphasized monogamy, heterosexuality, the nuclear family and domestic displays of wealth—in much of his work. In The Zoo Story, affluent, married Peter represents these norms while poor, single Jerry defies them; in fact, Jerry often goes out of his way to defy the cookie-cutter expectations of the 1950s, asking blunt questions about money and prodding into Peter’s domestic dissatisfaction.
Other Books Related to The Zoo Story
In The Zoo Story,
and in much of his work that would follow, Albee drew on two very different theatrical movements of the 1940s and 1950s. The first was American naturalism, a dialogue-based, true-to-life style made famous by playwrights like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. The second was European absurdism, known for its nihilism and repetition and best embodied by plays like Waiting for Godot
(by Samuel Beckett) and Rhinoceros
(by Eugene Ionesco). Albee’s synthesis of these two movements is particularly impressive given that naturalists generally sought to make meaning out of post-war life while absurdist writers often depicted life as meaningless—a conflict that is perhaps borne out in the conversation between Peter and Jerry.
Key Facts about The Zoo Story
Full Title: The Zoo Story
When Written: 1958
Where Written: Greenwich Village, New York
When Published: First performed in Berlin in 1959; U.S. premiere in 1960
Literary Period: Theatrical absurdism; mid-century American naturalism
Genre: Absurdist theater; tragicomedy
Setting: The east side of New York City’s Central Park, on a Sunday afternoon
Climax: The fight between Jerry and Peter
Point of View: Dramatic
Extra Credit for The Zoo Story