The latest production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, opened Saturday night at the Booth Theatre in NYC exactly 50 years to the day of the play's original Broadway opening on Saturday October 13, 1962.
Speak to anyone who works in or just enjoys the performing arts, and they will tell you that seeing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the first time was a seminal moment for them. It certainly had an impact on me the first time I saw it in the late 1960's. Since then, I've seen numerous productions, and they never fail to have a profound effect on me. I have always found the characters of George and Martha to be monstrous, but ultimately endearing.
I asked Pam MacKinnon, the show's director, what it is that's so compelling about the play, and why I'm such a fan of George and Martha.
"The characters are so richly drawn, and the evening is done in living time and runs the gamut of absurdist comedy to harrowing personal tragedy. The characters are intellectual but they have a real sense of the ridiculous," MacKinnon explained.
I've always found that too many dramas are not real because they lack humor and believability. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has plenty of both. George and Martha like to drink, smoke and fight, so despite being college intellectuals, everyone can relate to them. I consider George and Martha to be likable characters, and always find myself rooting for them, and MacKinnon agrees.
"Oh, absolutely," she said. "They know who they are and they have a huge amount of respect for each other in a crazy mixed up way. They don't write each other off and there's a real amazing tension between them and we as an audience want them to succeed in some way."
MacKinnon is a frequent interpreter of Albee's work and she clearly has a firm grasp on the material. "The one thing that was very important to me is honoring the titles of the three acts and the first act is called Fun & Games. There's a real reckless abandon but also a lot of genuine glee and humor. And for the audience a real sense of possibility -- what is this night, what is this party? I think some plays start out too dark too soon and that's not the case here."
Most of us didn't grow up in Ozzie & Harriet households, and perhaps I relate to the show so well because my parents fought frequently, but with more obscenities and less wit than George and Martha. In the end, my parents loved one another and spent a lifetime together. MacKinnon concurs: "George and Martha insult each other left and right, but there is always an underpinning of love. It's a play about a marriage, and these two people really love each other, and that's very important to me."
MacKinnon has assembled a wonderful cast and the production is truly excellent. Tracy Letts hits a homerun out of the park as George and he has my vote for the Tony.