Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
|Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?|
|Written by||Edward Albee|
|Date premiered||October 13, 1962|
|Place premiered||Billy Rose Theatre|
|Setting||Martha and George's New England home|
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1962 play by Edward Albee. It examines the breakdown of the marriage of a middle-aged couple, Martha and George. After a university faculty party, they receive an unwitting younger couple, Nick and Honey, as guests late one evening and draw them into their bitter and frustrated relationship. The play is in three acts, normally taking a little less than three hours to perform, with two 10-minute intermissions. The title is a pun on the song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" from Walt Disney's The Three Little Pigs (1933), substituting the name of the celebrated feminist English author Virginia Woolf. Martha and George repeatedly sing this version of the song throughout the play.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won both the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962–'63 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. It is frequently revived on the modern stage. The film adaptation was released in 1966, written by Ernest Lehman, directed by Mike Nichols, and starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal and Sandy Dennis.
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Plot summary 
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Act One — "Fun and Games" 
George and Martha engage in dangerous emotional games. George is an associate professor of history and Martha is soon revealed as the daughter of the president of the college. After they return home drunk from a party, Martha reveals she has invited a young married couple, whom she met at the party, for a drink. The guests arrive -- Nick, a biology professor (who Martha thinks teaches math), and his wife, Honey. As the four drink, Martha and George engage in scathing verbal abuse in front of Nick and Honey. The younger couple is first embarrassed and later enmeshed. They stay.
Martha taunts George aggressively and he retaliates with his usual passive aggression. Martha tells an embarrassing story about how she humiliated him with a sucker-punch in front of her father. During the telling, George appears with a gun and fires it, an umbrella popping out. After this scare, Martha's taunts continue. Nick and Honey grow continually uneasy. George reacts violently. Honey runs to the bathroom to vomit.
Act Two — "Walpurgisnacht" 
"Walpurgisnacht" is a joyous spring festival." The term is satiric in the play, with Nick and George sitting outside, near a swing-set (in the movie). As they talk about their wives, Nick says that his wife had a "hysterical pregnancy". George confides in Nick about his visiting a gin mill with a boarding school classmate. This friend killed his mother accidentally by shooting her, was laughed at for ordering "bergin," killed his father while driving, was committed to an asylum, and never spoke again. George and Nick discuss the possibility of having children and eventually argue and insult each other. After they rejoin the women in the house, George and Martha drive the couple home, continuing to argue. In the movie, they stop at a roadside diner, where Martha and Nick dance suggestively, which does not go unnoticed by Honey and George.
After an interlude by the police, George suggests a new game called "Get the Guests." George insults and mocks Honey with an extemporaneous tale of "the Mousie" who "tooted brandy immodestly and spent half her time in the upchuck." Honey realizes that the story is about her and her "hysterical pregnancy." The implication is that she trapped Nick into marrying her because of a false pregnancy. She feels sick and runs to the bathroom again.
At the end of this scene, Martha starts to act seductively towards Nick in George's presence. George pretends to react calmly, reading a book. As Martha and Nick walk upstairs, George throws his book against the door. In all productions until 2005, Honey returns, wondering who rang the doorbell. George comes up with a plan to tell Martha that their son has died. The act ends with George telling an invisible Martha that their son has died. In what is labeled the "Definitive Edition" of the script, however, the second act ends before Honey arrives.
Act Three — "The Exorcism" 
Martha appears alone in the living room, shouting at the others to come out from hiding. Nick joins her (on the porch, in the movie). The doorbell rings: it is George, with a bunch of snapdragons in his hand, calling out, "Flores para los muertos" (flowers for the dead), a reference to the play and movie (A Streetcar Named Desire), also about a marriage and outside influences. Martha and George argue about whether the moon is up or down: George insists it is up, while Martha says she saw no moon from the bedroom. This leads to a discussion in which Martha and George insult Nick in tandem, an argument revealing that Nick was too drunk to have sex with Martha upstairs anyway.
George asks Nick to bring Honey back for the final game -- "Bringing Up Baby." George and Martha have a son, about whom George has repeatedly told Martha to keep quiet. George talks about Martha's overbearing attitude toward their son. He then prompts her for her "recitation", in which they describe, in a bizarre duet, their son's upbringing. Martha describes their son's beauty and talents and then accuses George of ruining his life. As this segment progresses, George recites sections of the Libera me (part of the Requiem Mass, the Latin mass for the dead).
At the end of the play, George informs Martha that someone arrived at the door earlier was a messenger from Western Union with a telegram saying their son was "killed late in the afternoon...on a country road, with his learner's permit in his pocket" and that he "swerved, to avoid a porcupine." The description matches that of the boy in the gin-mill story told earlier. Martha screams, "You can't do that!" and collapses.
It becomes clear that George and Martha never had a son and George has decided to "kill" him. Martha broke their rule of never speaking of their son to others. Nick and Honey leave, realizing that the cause of their shameless antics was their inability to conceive. The play ends with George singing, "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?" to Martha, whereupon she replies, "I am, George...I am."
The play's title, which alludes to the English novelist Virginia Woolf, is also a reference to the song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" from Walt Disney's animated version of The Three Little Pigs. Because the rights to the Disney song are expensive, most stage versions, and the film, have Martha sing to the tune of "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush", a melody that fits the meter fairly well and is in the public domain. In the first few moments of the play, it is revealed that someone sang the song earlier in the evening at a party, although who first sang it (Martha or some other anonymous party guest) remains unclear. Martha repeatedly needles George over whether he found it funny.
Albee described the inspiration for the title thus:
- "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 an interview, Albee acknowledged that he based the characters of Martha and George on his good friends, New York socialites Willard Maas and Marie Menken. Maas was a professor of literature at Wagner College (one similarity between the character George and Willard) and his wife Marie was an experimental filmmaker and painter. Maas and Menken were known for their infamous salons, where drinking would "commence at 4pm on Friday and end in the wee hours of night on Monday" (according to Gerard Malanga, Warhol associate and friend to Maas). The primary conflict between George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? derived from Maas and Menken's tempestuous and volatile relationship.
Production history 
Original production 
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opened on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre on October 13, 1962. The original cast featured Uta Hagen as Martha, Arthur Hill as George, Melinda Dillon as Honey and George Grizzard as Nick. It was directed by Alan Schneider. Subsequent cast members included Henderson Forsythe, Eileen Fulton, Mercedes McCambridge, and Elaine Stritch.
Because of the unusual length of the play (over three hours), prior to the opening a matinee company was also hired that performed twice a week and featured Kate Reid as Martha, Shepperd Strudwick as George, Avra Petrides as Honey and Bill Berger as Nick. As with the evening company, these matinee performances also sold out.
Original Broadway cast album 
The release contained a sixteen-page booklet with photos from the original production, critical essays by Harold Clurman and Walter Kerr, cast and crew biographies, and a short article by Goddard Lieberson on the task of recording the play. The introduction is by Edward Albee, in which he relates, "I cannot conceive of anyone wanting to buy [this] massive album; but...every playwright wants as much permanence for his work as he can get."
The recording was issued in both stereo (DOS 687) and monaural (DOL 287) formats. It is out-of-print and was never re-released in other formats and is highly prized among collectors, as a play with such adult themes had never been recorded for the general public before.
2004 to 2012 productions 
The play was revived on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre, opening on March 12, 2005 in previews and closing on September 4, 2005 after 177 performances and 8 previews. Directed by Anthony Page the cast starred Kathleen Turner as Martha and Bill Irwin as George, with Mireille Enos (Honey) and David Harbour (Nick). Irwin won the 2005 Tony Award for Best Actor for his role. The production transferred to the West End at the Apollo Theatre with the entire original cast, running from January 31, 2006 to May 13, 2006. In January 2007 the Turner-Irwin production was performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., for a month-long run. On February 6, 2007, the production began a six-week run at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.
On December 12, 2010, the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, Illinois began performances of the play featuring Amy Morton as Martha, Tracy Letts (the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of August: Osage County) as George, Carrie Coon and Madison Dirks. The production was directed by Pam MacKinnon, who previously directed the premieres of Albee's Peter and Jerry, and Occupant.
This production opened on Broadway at the Booth Theatre on September 27, 2012 (previews) with an opening of October 13, 2012 (which is 50 years after the original Broadway opening). Pam MacKinnon again is the director, with the Steppenwolf Theatre reprising their roles. Following opening weekend, the production and cast won high praise from New York Times reviewer Charles Isherwood.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won both the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962–63 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. Its stars won the 1963 Tony Awards for Best Actor and Actress as well. It was also selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Drama by that award's drama jury. However, the award's advisory board—the trustees of Columbia University—objected to the play's then-controversial use of profanity and sexual themes, and overruled the award's advisory committee, awarding no Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1963.
Jack Valenti identifies the film as the first controversial movie he had to deal with as president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). The movie was the first to use the word "screw" and the phrase "hump the hostess" on screen. As he says, "In company with the MPAA's general counsel, Louis Nizer, I met with Jack Warner, the legendary chieftain of Warner Bros., and his top aide, Ben Kalmenson. We talked for three hours, and the result was deletion of "screw" and retention of "hump the hostess," but I was uneasy over the meeting."
Original Film Soundtrack Album 
The film was given a "Deluxe Edition Two-Record Set" soundtrack album release in 1967 by Warner Bros. Records, and was the first film to have its vocals be released in its entirety on an album, as the film (at that time) could never be shown in reruns on network television. It contains the vocals of the four actors performing in the film with the only piece of music heard throughout the entire album is a song titled "Virginia Woolf Rock" that plays while Martha and Nick are dancing (but plays a little differently than it does in the film).
In at least two instances alternate takes were used: Taylor's memorable "Goddamn you!" line is restored to "Screw you!", and some of the dialogue from the dancing sequence was lifted from another take. As Martha tells her story about punching George in the stomach in front of her father to Nick and Honey, it is heard very clearly while in the film it became distant and muffled as the camera followed George into another room to get a gun. The album also ran a half-hour shorter than the movie as most pauses and long silent moments were removed. However, virtually every line remains intact. The album's cover has the four main actors on the cover and the back cover has some background information about the four actors, information about the five-month shooting schedule, some information about Albee and a brief synopsis of the film. This album is also out-of-print, was never re-released in any other formats and is also highly prized among collectors.
The music from the film was bootlegged unofficially onto an undated German CD that featured 11 tracks of film composer Alex North's score from the film (other music releases from the film used conductor Jerry Goldsmith's music, which also added snippets of dialog on a couple tracks, especially Elizabeth Taylor shouting "SNAP!").
- "Drink, Drink and Be Merry" Theater Jones, accessed October 15, 2012
- Flanagan, William (Fall 1966). "The Art of Theater No. Edward Albee" (PDF). The Paris Review 4 (39). Archived from the original on 2008-05-29. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
- The New York Herald Tribune, October 11, 1962, article entitled A Director's Double Trouble-- Rehearsing 2 Casts for 1 Show
- Edwatd Albee: A Singular Journey by Mel Gussow
- "Listing, 2005 Broadway" InternetBroadwayDatabase, accessed June 14, 2012
- "Listing, Apollo Theatre, 2006" thisistheatre.com, accessed June 14, 2012
- "The 2008 Pulitzer Prize Winners - Drama". pulitzer.org.
- "Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf Directed by Pam McKinnon". Retrieved 15 September 2012.
- Jones, Kenneth. "George and Martha Will Settle Into Broadway's Booth for 50th Anniversary of Albee's 'Virginia Woolf'" playbill.com, June 13, 2012
- "Taking No Prisoners in Boozy, Brutal Head Games". New York Times. Retrieved 15 October 2012.
- Chamberlain, Adrian (7 July 2011). "Meg Tilly's leap of faith". Times Colonist. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
- "Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?". Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
- Klein, Alvin. "Albee's 'Tiny Alice, The Whole Enchilada". The New York Times, 24 May 1998: CT11.
- Jack Valenti. "How It All Began". Motion Picture Association of America. Archived from the original on 2008-05-21. Retrieved 2008-06-17.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?|
- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Internet Broadway Database
- Guardian review of London production 01/02/2006
- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? literary analysis, themes, quotes, teaching guide