Edward Albee and Integrity in the Second Half of Life
Edward Albee, the great American playwright, whose plays lay open issues of integrity in the second half of life, died last week.
Albee’s plays were never easy viewing — Zoo Story, A Delicate Balance, Sylvia, and the visceral, devastating Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, one of the most powerful tsunamis of raw emotion in American theatre. Yet, in each of them there is an unrelenting return to one powerful question that very often hovers in the middle of the lives of individuals from midlife on. As Albee himself expressed it:
The purpose of serious theater has always been to hold a mirror up to people and say, ‘Hey, this is you. If you don’t like what you see, why don’t you change?
It is in this sense that Albee’s plays take on the question of integrity in the second half of life. We’re used to thinking of “integrity” as pertaining to stolid, stoic, morally upright individuals, who adhere, unflinchingly, to rigid moral codes. But following Jungian analyst and psychiatrist John Beebe, I’m using the word in another sense here: the sense of taking responsibility for what one does, and, more fundamentally, for all that one is. Albee’s plays provide a devastating portrait of individuals trapped into masks and postures that do not allow them to be what they truly are, and he keeps calling his characters — and we, his audience — back to their own fundamental being. In so doing, he accords with one of the key themes of /a-midlife-transition.
Again, as Albee himself put it:
Each play of mine has a distinctive story to tell…. What unites them all is that I’m trying to make people more aware of whether they’re living their lives fully or not.
Edward Albee in Santa Fe New Mexican, 2001
Whether they — we — are living our lives fully or not. It is this question, garbed in the power of his images and his language, that constitute Albee’s potent legacy, and that will live with all of us for a long time.
The question of integrity in this form, of authenticity in this form, is one of the central issues at the heart of /a-midlife-transition. It is of fundamental importance as we move through the second half of life.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)