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Albee estate rejects Virginia Woolf rights after black casting row

Edward Albee
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An American producer has claimed he had the rights to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? withdrawn by Edward Albee's estate after he cast a black actor in the production.

Michael Streeter, who was due to produce the play at a theatre in the US city of Portland in September, said Albee's estate had requested he recast the role with a white actor and taken away the rights when he refused.

In a post on Facebook, Streeter said he was "furious and dumbfounded" at the situation, adding: "The Edward Albee Estate needs to join the 21st century."

Streeter had cast the black actor in the role of Nick, who is described in the text as having blonde hair and blue eyes.

According to news site Jezebel, which obtained a message sent from Sam Rudy – press representative for the estate – to Streeter, the estate's protocol dictates that casting for all roles in the play must be approved before a licence is granted.

It went on to say that Streeter had advertised the production before contacting the estate to approve the casting, meaning he was "in violation of the agreement by hiring [the actor] in the first place".

Rudy said: ”Regarding the matter of your request to cast an actor who is African American as Nick in Virginia Woolf?, it is important to note that Mr Albee wrote Nick as a Caucasian character, whose blonde hair and blue eyes are remarked on frequently in the play, even alluding to Nick’s likeness as that of an Aryan of Nazi racial ideology.”

Rudy added that Albee, who died last year, had been approached in the past about non-traditional castings of the production and had said that a mixed-race marriage would not have gone unacknowledged in the 1960s context of the play.

"This provides clear evidence that productions of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? must, indeed, continue to be cast per Mr Albee’s intention, and according to the legal rights held by his estate, which works with great care to ensure that the author’s intent is upheld as closely as possible and with great consideration given to his stage directions and dialogue," Rudy said.

When approached for a comment by The Stage, Streeter said his decision to cast a black actor in the role was a conscious one that he hoped would add depth to the play.

He continued: "I do not question the motives of those that made the decision. I think they have some fealty to a sense of integrity to Edward Albee's desires. But I had hoped the negative aspects of Albee would die with him. I do not question their right to make the decision. If I did, I would pursue it legally. All I did was post a very short Facebook rant about my disappointment in their decision. I think they made the wrong one. I think the benefits of casting Nick with an African American actor outweigh the drawbacks."

The Edward Albee Estate had not responded to a request for comment from The Stage at the time of publication.

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