Edward Albee,Tiny Alice, Philip Roth & 1965 or ‘The Play that Dare Not Speak Its Name’: a comment by American Writer

In his review/essay of ‘Tiny Alice’ Mr. Roth presents his case against Mr. Albee in full heterosexual defensiveness as he attacks the closeted playwright as literary type, as well as a writer. Compare this first quoted paragraph which uses this slur ‘ ghastly pansy rhetoric’ to the last paragraph that advocates for a ‘homosexual hero’ not veiled by some instantiation of angst-ridden priest, or an angry Negro, or an aging actress; or worst of all, Everyman.’ (Mr. Roth is his maladroit way alludes to the work of both James Baldwin and Tennessee Williams.) How is that hero to be realized, to have literary personhood, to be an actor, in this or any other drama? It’s almost as if the ‘Homosexual’ is a category outside, ‘The Other’ not realized as human: that Roth makes the ‘subject’ of  his imperious and empirically ludicrous demand. But the real question here, looking back from 2016 to 1965, is to make the schizophrenia that Mr. Roth presents as legitimate, in the premier journal of the New York Liberal Literati of it’s time, into the point of inquiry.  It seems fitting on the news of Edward Albee’s death, that we look at the reception of his work, in it’s time and literary/political milieu suffused with homophobia.


The disaster of the play, however—its tediousness, its pretentiousness, its galling sophistication, its gratuitous and easy symbolizing, its ghastly pansy rhetoric and repartee—all of this can be traced to his own unwillingness or inability to put its real subject at the center of the action. An article on the theater page of The New York Times indicates that Albee is distressed by the search that has begun for the meaning of the play; the Times also reports that he is amused by it, as well. When they expect him to become miserable they don’t say; soon, I would think. For despair, not archness, is usually what settles over a writer unable to invent characters and an action and a tone appropriate to his feelings and convictions. Why Tiny Alice is so unconvincing, so remote, so obviously a sham—so much the kind of play that makes you want to rise from your seat and shout, “Baloney”—is that its surface is an attempt to disguise the subject on the one hand, and to falsify its significance on the other. All that talk about illusion and reality may even be the compulsive chattering of a dramatist who at some level senses that he is trapped in a lie.



Tiny Alice is a homosexual day-dream in which the celibate male is tempted and seduced by the overpowering female, only to be betrayed by the male lover and murdered by the cruel law, or in this instance, cruel lawyer. It has as much to do with Christ’s Passion as a little girl’s dreaming about being a princess locked in a tower has to do with the fate of Mary Stuart. Unlike Genet, who dramatizes the fact of fantasying in Our Lady of the Flowers, Albee would lead us to believe that his fantasy has significance altogether removed from the dread or the desire which inspired it; consequently, the attitudes he takes towards his material are unfailingly inappropriate. His subject is emasculation—as was Strindberg’s in The Father, a play I mention because its themes, treated openly and directly, and necessarily connected in the action, are the very ones that Albee has so vulgarized and sentimentalized in Tiny Alice: male weakness, female strength, and the limits of human knowledge. How long before a play is produced on Broadway in which the homosexual hero is presented as a homosexual, and not disguised as an angst-ridden priest, or an angry Negro, or an aging actress; or worst of all, Everyman?

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1965/02/25/the-play-that-dare-not-speak-its-name/ ATTENTION: This link is behind a pay wall!

American Writer

The exchange of letters is informative :

Tiny Alice


About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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