Constructed with the precision of a musical composition, and described by Clive Barnes as “a chamber opera and a symbolic poem about communication,” the play juxtaposes three characters “The Man,” “The Woman,” and “The Girl” and sifts through the tangled relationship they have evidently shared. The Man is amiable but distant; The Woman acerbic and bitter; The Girl is perhaps mad a catatonic who has destroyed her own child. Elliptical in form and redolent with evocative overtones, the play weaves together its strands of conversation and soliloquy into a meaningful pattern of events underscoring the inescapable fact that while we may listen we do not always hear, and our lives, for better or worse, are shaped accordingly.
In the introduction to the second volume of The Collected Plays of Edward Albee, Albee explains the history of the play:
Listening was commissioned by the BBC and an American radio group called Earplay, as a radio play. Taking note of Samuel Beckett’s ingenious idea of writing a play that would be equally effective on the radio and on the stage (as he did with Embers) I wrote mine with the same duality of purpose. I prefer it on stage, where, unfortunately, it is performed infrequently, perhaps because it is fairly dense work.
Albee, Edward. Introduction. The Collected Plays of Edward Albee. Vol. 2. New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2005. 8.
Type: Short Play
First Performance: 28 March 1976, BBC Radio Three, London; 28 January 1977, Hartford Stage Company, Hartford, CT.; 5 November 1993, Signature Theatre Company, New York
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