Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a modern theatre classic written by Edward Albee. The play first opened on Broadway in 1962, fresh out of the Eisenhower Era.
Plot: George and Martha return home from a college faculty party in the middle of a night, when Martha informs George she has invited over guests — the new math professor and his wife. Once the couple arrives, George and Martha engage in a fierce game of insults, throwing the young couple Nick and Honey into the midst of their manipulative scheme.
Cultural Significance: Virginia Woolf is not a character in the play. Instead, the play was written after the conservative wave of the Eisenhower Era. Woolf represents the realization of illusions under which many traditional families were hiding. Albee’s play won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1963, but lost the Pulitzer Prize for Drama because of its profanity and sexual themes.
Review: Few plays of such high caliber are performed in local theatres in the Upstate. Chicago and Wicked have both dropped by on national tours, but Virginia Woolf is a major task for a local theatre. The success of the play is entirely dependent on the ability of the actors to grip the audience for three hours in an emotionally exhausting performance.
Mimi Wyche stars as Martha, a disappointed wife of a college history professor. Wyche has performed on Broadway and Off-Broadway, and her casting in the Warehouse’s production has stirred up the local theatre community with excitement. Avid theatre lovers will not be disappointed, as Wyche delivers a must-see performance that leaves the audience speechless at the close of the show.
Director Roy Fluhrer directed the show 30 years ago, but is more impressed with this performance due to his excellent cast. Fluhrer began talks with Wyche about this performance 10 years ago, and found Chip Egan as George nearly four yeas ago. Fluhrer praised his cast saying, “As wonderful as this play is, as fantastic as it is in its language and its characters, what really makes this worthwhile is that relationship not only of the cast as the cast, but as the cast as a bunch of actors from Greenville.”
Fluhrer’s praises are well-deserved, as local actors Debra Capps and Brock Koonce also deliver spectacular performances. Fluhrer’s meticulous direction is also very evident, as well as the influence of Stanislavski on his work. While most directors would claim Stanislavski as an influence, Fluhrer’s persistence on his actors’ careful movements helps the audience engage with every action. No single movement is wasted in each actor’s deliberation to reach their character’s goals.
The set is beautifully designed, as designer Shannon Robert took advantage of the climactic plot — since the story takes place solely in George and Martha’s house, the scene was very elaborate and picturesque of a professor’s home and personal study. Books, CDs and papers were carefully placed in an untidy fashion on shelves and desks, helping add to the deteriorating relationship of George and Martha.
Costume design for the play was also a major strength of the show. Particularly for the male characters, the design helped show the generational divide between George and Nick, a key theme in Virginia Woolf. George appears unkempt wearing an old sweater, while Nick is dressed wearing a suit and tie. Throughout the first two acts, George is very uncomfortable with Nick’s promising future and the changes his generation could bring. For the female characters, Martha wears very alluring outfits according to her strong personality, while Honey is dressed in a plain dress hanging on her fragile body.
The character foils are not only made evident by the costume design, but by the strong performance of the cast as a unit. Capps’ reactions as Honey in the opening act are the character’s strongest moments. The scene between George and Nick provides a key insight on the contrast between George’s failed career and Nick’s promising future. George inquires to know more about the coming changes in Nick’s generation, eventually manipulating Nick into spilling too much personal information.
Overall, the performance is a must-see for any fan of local theatre, and the ending scene of brokenness will leave audiences speechless.
Favorite Moment: After George and Martha have a violent outburst in the middle of Act One, George plays a trick on the other characters. The genuine surprise of the characters both frightened and humored the audience, placing them as victims of George’s game as well.
Themes: George and Martha once had a happy relationship until Martha realized George would never meet her expectations. The play continually reveals the breaking down of illusions and disguises, as both couples are hiding secrets. “Truth and illusion. Who knows the difference?” Martha asks in the final act. The illusions each couple live with serve as a comfort for the uncomfortable realities they attempt to deny. Unlike the family models of the Eisenhower Era, Virginia Woolf exposes the destructive realities behind the surface. As the play develops, it becomes clear that truth serves as the play’s antagonist, eventually ruining each character.
A second theme developed in the play is the uncomfortable changes of the younger generation. George is immediately skeptical of Nick, the young biology professor at New Carthage University. Because George is preoccupied with history, he feels threatened by the wave of the future and lack of respect Nick shows towards the older generation.
Content Advisory: Albee’s play contains strong profanity and sexual dialogue. The content prevented the play from winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1963.
Tickets: $25 adults; $15 students
Box Office: 864-235-6948