Friday, 6 July 2012

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (4/5)

The back says: “Twelve times a week,” answered Uta Hagen when asked how often she’d like to play Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? In the same way, audiences and critics alike could not get enough of Edward Albee’s masterful play. A dark comedy, it portrays husband and wife George and Martha in a searing night of dangerous fun and games. By the evening’s end, a stunning, almost unbearable revelation provides a climax that has shocked audiences for years. With the play’s razor-sharp dialogue and stripping away of social pretense, Newsweek rightly foresaw Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as “a brilliantly original work of art – an excoriating theatrical experience, surging with shocks of recognition and dramatic fire [that] will be igniting Broadway for some time to come.”

I say: The best part of this play is, undoubtedly, the revelation at the end. It was one of those moments that just change everything that you thought you knew about these people that you’ve only just met.

We have George, who is a professor of history at a college, and his wife Martha, whose father is the president of the college where the George works. They invite over another couple, Nick, a biology professor at the same college, and his wife Honey. When we first meet the first couple, they have just gotten home from some college function, and continue to drink and abuse each other. After a while the other couple joins them and are quickly embarrassed by the way George and Martha are treating each other. As the night progresses everyone gets drunk and start abusing each other.

As you do.

It’s clear from the beginning that George and Martha have some serious issues, playing various word games with the only object of taunting each other and their guests. However, and after getting the other couple drunk, we start to notice that Nick and Honey aren’t as sweet and innocent as they would like to appear.

It has to be said that I absolutely abhorred Martha in the beginning and kept trying to figure out why poor George stayed with her. However, as the play progressed I started to feel something akin to sympathy for her – although not as much as I sympathised with George – but then when we got to the end, most of my sympathy dwindled away. Their relationship was so destructive, and even though they each had their reasons for staying, I hated them for deciding explode and bring innocent bystander into the fire instead of just imploding.

Initially I felt sorry for Nick and Honey being caught in the crossfires, but after a while I started wondering if this wasn’t the best thing that could have happened to them. Nick was a bastard and actually, the only innocent person in this drama was Honey.

According to Wiki Edward Albee said this about the choice of title:

“I was in there having a beer one night, and I saw "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" scrawled in soap, I suppose, on this mirror. When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who's afraid of Virginia Woolf means who's afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who's afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical, university intellectual joke.”

I didn’t know this when I started reading the play, and all the time they kept singing “who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf” I was wondering what it was all about. It wasn’t until the last line that I actually got it, and then I just wanted to run out and see this performed live on stage; which I hopefully will one day.

*This is my ninth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my 100 Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long list).


  1. I read this ages ago and didn't understand a bit of it. Sounds like I need to re-read it although it was incredibly depressing watching these people abuse one another, so I'm not so sure. I know there's a film version too starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, but I haven't seen it. Do you plan to watch it?

    1. Not to be insulting or anything, but how old were you when you read it? Because I'm sure that if I'd read this prior to my mid-20's I doubt that I would have enjoyed it - even less gotten it. It's that whole "who's afraid of living life without false illusions" that it took me a while to understand. I used to think that I was being real, but looking back I still had this persona I was showing the world - which is the case with all these characters; they're all showing something they're not.

      I knew there was a film version, but not what actors were in it. I think I will watch it, because I want to see it acted out in front of me. This is one of the things I don't like about moving back to Sweden; all the plays are in Swedish and I want to see them in English.

    2. I think I was probably 19 or 20, definitely still at university. And I totally agree, some books just need to be read later in life to be fully understood and appreciated.

  2. Eh, this is yet another book that has been languishing on my TBR...

    1. Me too. I've seen/heard so many references to it and when I saw it at the library it was one of those 'now or never' moments and I took it.