Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Martha and George drunkenly return from a faculty party held by Martha’s father, the college president. Martha announces they are expecting visitors, a new faculty member and his wife, Nick and Honey. Exasperated, George wonders why they had to come over at 2:00 a.m. after a party instead of another day, but Martha insisted her father told her they should take care of the new couple. George and Martha play verbal games with each other, and their guests, that involve cruel teasing and doublespeak as they each try to exert power and gain control of the gathering, Martha with an antagonistic, flamboyant style, and George in a passive-aggressive, cynical manner. Nick, handsome, fit, and nearly twenty years younger than George, an ambitious professor in the Biology Department, threatens history professor George has plateaued in his career and who describes himself as fading into the background. As they divulge their pasts and reveal their desires, the quartet face uncomfortable and shocking truths.
Reading the play was captivating, almost in the way that watching a disaster unfold is mesmerizing. The dialogue is clever and cutting, and the stage directions succinct and apt. The characters, particularly George and Martha, are so complex and multifaceted, they are fascinating. Albee uses language interestingly, for example repeating certain phrases to underline circularity or using all caps for emphasis. Although a few references, like refusing to surrender Berlin, have less impact now, the subject matter is as relevant now as it was when the play was first performed in the 1960s. What really made the play spectacular in my opinion was the layers of meaning and the artful use of symbolism.