Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was first performed in New York City in 1962. The play stunned and pleased American audiences, seemed to provide a vital insight into American life. The country was coming out of the 1950s, when Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower was a conservative, well-loved president and television shows like Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best were popular. The importance of a happy family was emphasized by both politicians and popular culture. Many Americans considered success to be measured by having one's own house, car, kids, and dog. By all shallow measures, the 1950s were a stable, productive time for the United States of America. And yet, these shallow measures and the trappings of success often hid real problems, which will eventually crop up in any human community. It is this raw, human truth beneath the phony exterior that Edward Albee attempts to reveal in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
Edward Albee grew up in a family deeply invested in projecting the perfect image of itself into social situations. Born in Washington D.C. on March 12, 1928, Albee was adopted by a wealthy family from Larchmont, New York. This affluent suburb of New York City was home to a rich, competitive social scene, of which his mother, in particular, was very much a part. Through his youth, Albee resisted interacting with this culture, finding it hollow and unsatisfactory. At age twenty, after years of expensive schooling at prestigious institutions, Albee moved to New York City's Greenwich Village to join the avant-garde art scene. His first play, The Zoo Story, was performed in 1959, met with fine success, and launched his career. After that, Albee earned much praise for most of his work, the most famous of which are Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Delicate Balance, and Three Tall Women.