|From 1966 movie adaptation of the play
starring Elizabeth Taylor
and Richard Burton.
Initially, all I could think during and after reading Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a 1962 play by Edward Albee, was “What the hell?” George and Martha, a long married couple, return home from a university faculty party and the sparks begin to fly…sparks that are definitely not of the good variety. George and the reader learn that the young new biology professor, Nick, and his wife, Honey, have been invited over for some post party cocktails by Martha. It is after two o’clock in the morning and George is pissed. More sparks fly and the fighting continues to escalate right in front of the company. These two were making me incredibly uncomfortable, to say nothing of Nick and Honey. By the end of the play, the situation has gotten completely out of hand. I went from initially thinking that George and Martha were just acting like loons because they were drunk to thinking that perhaps they (or at least Martha) were mentally ill.
I was so distracted by their behavior that I originally missed much of the symbolism and intention of this work so, I actually had to give this play some extra thought. Albee certainly succeeded in creating an interesting character study. I would really like to see this on the stage. I think that it is important to remember that this play was originally being viewed by individuals who were just leaving the warm clutches of the wholesome 1950s. A time when shows like Leave it to Beaver depicted the “white picket fence” American family on TV. A world where everything was all “golly Wolly” and “geez Beav” and June and Ward were all smiles even during the rare disagreement. Albee was perhaps trying to expose this as a façade. That many Americans did not necessarily have their polite “telephone voices” turned on all the time. That life was gritty, complicated and imperfect and that for those that were hiding behind the facade ultimately illusion was a dangerous game. Albee is scrutinizing not only how some people project false images in public but also how this occurs in more intimate relationships such as between husbands and wives. Albee also explores how the frustration of the lack of children, the lack of career success for a man, and the unavailability of career options for women during this time can affect marriage. The image of the ideal successful American family required that certain expectations be met. A family required the perfect working dad, house wife and mother, children, house, and car. One must keep up with the Jones next door. This play reminded me in some ways of Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road which is a haunting tale of the dangers of chasing the idealistic American dream. I think it would be interesting to explore these two works together in an upper high school English class. Ultimately, I think this play is something that must be experienced live rather than read.
Well, the cold, hideous winter weather has returned. I am wondering if the weather could account for so many bloggers being in a reading rut…myself included. I know that my OCD need to finish one book before I begin another is playing a role for me. I was keeping a pretty good pace with War and Peace, but am having a really hard time finding the necessary motivation to finish the last section so I can officially move on. So, tonight I decided to move outside of my box and just go ahead and start something else…something lighter (at least compared to War and Peace) to get me back on smoother reading ground: Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
I picked the play up today along with Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and East of Eden (I seem to have lost my other copy and I feel a re-read coming in my future…), The Color Purple by Alice Walker and a collection of short stories including The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. I was thinking about reading a “non-classic” to bring me out of this slump, but that didn’t really appeal to me either. I am hoping that snuggling up with this play in my freshly cleaned bedroom (with my stylin new curtain rods) will do the trick.