Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Albee, Edward. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962; play) 

As happens so often when I fall hook, line and sinker for a book, I read Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in one straight sitting. In the process, I missed a comely-looking Ashley Judd chasing baddies around Eastern Europe in Missing, and my nephew's sixth birthday cake, but guess what: no regrets, beeyatch! I'm so glad about our sordid little affair on the balcony- illuminated only by my mobile phone and freed of inhibitions by copious helpings of bergin while the family organized a search party to find me before my nephew went to bed- that I'm thinking of getting a tattoo to forever remind me of our tryst.

Ashley Judd (Missing):  So badass she hangs up on gentleman callers.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is longer than your average play, clocking in at well over three hours. It's a dark and twisted roller-coaster ride full of lies and cruel truths and illusions and harsh realities and wanting and not being able to. The story is played out in the living room of  George and Martha, starting at two in the morning and snaking it's way into the day. (I'd happily forego most pleasures in life to watch Paul Giamatti and a decade-younger Meryl Streep play the couple on film.) Martha has invited Nick and Honey (Ryan Gosling and Isla Fisher, anybody?), a young couple and recently-made acquaintances, back home for a nightcap after a party hosted by her father, overlord of the college where George and Nick are professors.  

George and Martha are middle-aged -Martha the older of the two- and exploding at the seams from too much proximity. The despair and the disillusionment of watching each other grow old without living up to any of their youthful promise is writ large on their countenance and fills their words with venom. They create and participate in wicked games to keep themselves amused, as I would imagine any long-term couple might do. The difference is however that their guests are caught in the crossfire, made unwitting participants in their marital discord. This is a quirky contradiction - George and Martha are much too intellectual and privileged to indulge in what may be considered such 'lower class' behavior.

Their game appears to be an on-going narrative, something they have cultivated and bred for a very long time. It comes with an intriguing set of characters, from a fictional 20-year old son to childhood anecdotes of institutionalized madness and murder. Nick and Honey pack their own anti-heroic punches, consumed as they are by age-appropriate ambition and familial longings respectively. Honey, in particular, is the puppeteer of a shockingly cruel private dance- one that George repeatedly (and ultimately, successfully) tries to cut into.

The use of the word 'successful' at all though, in reference to any of the gang, would be self-defeating, and disrespectful of the pathos of strained human relationships the play so successfully (damnit, that word again!) portrays. Though American, and first staged in 1962, it has more than a touch of the kitchen sink drama that so defined social realist British plays of the 1950s and 60s, and calls to mind -more than once- John Osborne's Look Back In Anger (1956). Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? works -and never, ever feels derivative- because it works on two levels: it is both critique and praise of the importance of illusions to one's sanity (or the semblance of it)- a theme all too easy to identify with for yours truly.

And as if that weren't enough to douse the cockles of my heart with arson, Wikipedia serves up this little pop culture gem for dessert- in the words of the man, Edward Albee, himself- about the inspiration for the title of the play: "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." In brief: Existential misery gift-wrapped in pretentious toilet wall graffiti-  what's not to like?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? reminded me of: "Wicked Game"- Chris Isaak, Heart Shaped World (1989)  


  1. Absolutely must read this book looks like !
    And that was a fun review :D
    Lovely !!!

  2. First off,I'm in love with your writing!
    Your reviews aren't exactly short but worth every minute spent reading them.:)

    Who's Afraid.. is right on top in my list of most referenced books ever...but I haven't got down to reading it.But I will...one of these days.And yep,Kudos to all the research you put into every review you write!:)

  3. Thanks for reading guys, and glad you enjoyed it. Now let me know how you like the book; no greater joy than spreading it. :)

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