Friday, August 5, 2011

Book 99: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (Finished).

"Dashed hopes and good intentions. Good, better, best, bested."

In one word? Amazing. Or maybe...phenomenal.

Really, this is one of the craziest and most dramatic plays I have ever read. I would kill to see this performed. It is violent and raw and so unbelievably in your face the entire time. I found myself flipping pages at a frantic rate because I just had to know how it would all end.

The play centers on four characters: George, a university history professor; Martha, his wife and the university president's daughter; Nick, a new faculty member; and Honey, his somewhat...dimwitted wife. The four find themselves at George and Martha's home after a party where absolute insanity begins and ends.

From the beginning, you know that George and Martha have an interesting marriage. And with company over, you would expect for them to be a little more...cordial to one another. But the play simmers with rage and violence beneath their exchanges and while at times I laughed, you have to wonder what kind of things they have been through to hurl such words at one another.

"I said I was impressed, Martha. I'm beside myself with jealousy. What do you want me to do, throw up?"

As the play progresses, George and Martha continue to make their guests drunker and more uncomfortable with their interactions. It is then that I, as the audience, became aware of the parallels and differences between the two sets of couples. There are obvious tensions between George and Martha, as he did not live up to what she wanted him to be. Nick and Honey seem like a younger version of them-happy on the outside, but there is turmoil beneath.

That is what makes this work. Since the reader is inside the house with these four characters, we are seeing a side of humanity and marriage that is usually glossed over. On the outside, George and Martha must seem like a couple who has it all. Secure jobs, a son, a marriage of 23 years....but as their games progress over the course of the night, it is evident there are so many problems between the two. Anger. Resentment. It is as if Albee is uncovering a dark secret.

And while the play is funny (at one point George calls Honey "monkey nipples"), it is also squirm in your chair uncomfortable. And it is meant to be. People don't laugh and joke about their serious problems this way, do they? And they certainly don't air their dirty laundry in front of people they just met....or do they?

The result is a play that had me reading until late at night, desperate to reach the final page and the ending that shocked me. By that point, each character had reached their limit-their true, raw self that they could no longer hide behind pretensions and false images. By the end, everything was in the open and on the table, whether it should be or not.

Hands down, one of the best plays I've read. And you better believe that I am going to get my hands on a copy of the film version as soon as I can (1966-Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor).

I also want to point you in the direction of Adam's review. He is much more eloquent than I am. :)


  1. I have to get my hands on a copy of this play. I've heard of it before, but I've never read/heard a really good description of it like you've provided here. Definitely something I need to read. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Talk about a raving review! Sounds very... cerebral. I haven't seen the movie and I'm glad of it because now I can read the play with no external interference.

  3. I'm so glad you read this one! I was rooting for it, back when you were looking for suggestions. I absolutely loved, loved, loved it. Obviously. :P

  4. I read this last year and had a similar reaction. It was like watching a train wreck, you just can't look away. I watched the movie shortly after reading it and it's really good. Tyler is manic, but she really throws herself into the performance.

  5. Ok I'm intrigued. Putting it on my wishlist. :)

  6. I love that you loved this play! I would really like to see this one performed live, but may have to look into renting the movie until that opportunity arises someday...
    My thoughts from after I read the play can be found here:
    Have you read Long Days Journey into Night? Another play I really enjoyed...

  7. I loved this play.

    "I swear, if you existed, I'd divorce you"

    Best quote ever. I use it regularly.

  8. So, so good! The movie is amazing, too.