Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Albee takesa minute to talk about his most famous work, 1962’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”:
“It’s not a bad play, it’s an OK play,” he says on the phone from New York, in a tone that’s as wry as his words.
He admits it falls into the category of “famous for being famous.”
As the 2005 Tony-nominated Broadway tour of the show, which stars Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin (who won a Tony Award for Best Actor) opens in San Francisco this week, Albee, 79, says it’s played the way he wrote it — “both serious and funny,” he says, noting, “Some of the early productions had little humor.”
Many have seen the movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as Martha and George, a vitriolic university couple who sling extraordinarily cruel, yet intelligent, insults at each other and their guests Honey and Nick (played by Sandy Dennis and George Segal in the movie; Kathleen Early and David Furr in the current tour).
He laughs politely and says “good” when told that this interviewer felt brutalized after seeing a stage version of it in Ashland, Ore., a few years ago. Did he know those dark characters? “I couldn’t have written them if I didn’t,” he says, adding that he “thunk” them up as well.
While the show’s terrifying language isn’t quite as shocking today as it was in the 1960s, Albee says while the play has “metamorphosed” over the years, it hasn’t “changed its focus.” Even in today’s violent, cynical world, “Virginia Woolf” still packs a punch.
But for Albee, the show isn’t about being mean. It’s about many things: ambition, and the effects of living with lies, primary among them.
Always taking on difficult topics throughout a career that has spanned nearly 50 years, Albee clearly isn’t concerned too much about popularity, although he is pleased by, and has been involved with, a recent London revival of 1980’s lesser-known “The Lady From Dubuque” with Maggie Smith.
Despite the fact that his works have serious themes, Albee says, “I don’t believe in agit-prop theater.”
That doesn’t mean he isn’t political. At the close of the interview, when asked if there’s anything else he’d like to say, he queries, “When are we going to get rid of Bush?”
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Presented by Best of Broadway
Where: Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; closes May 12
Tickets: $50 to $80
Contact: (415) 512-7770 or www.ticketmaster.com