The Concord Journal

Play Review:
Players ‘Virginia Woolf’ :
a primal scream By

By Grenville Cuyler  

George informs Martha in the third act of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” that his last game Bringing Up Baby will make her performance look like an “Easter Pageant.” Last Friday’s opening at the Concord Players makes Liz and Dick look like an “Easter Pageant.” For here we have the uncut original and so lacerations are at full-length. The film version could not really do justice to Albee, the writer. This Newbold /Schecter production does. Go see it April 29, 30, May 1, 6, 7.

However, you’re in for a long evening, so come prepared. We’re dealing with the same relentless tearing away to subcutaneous layers, the ‘marrow’ as George puts it, that is found in O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night” or more recently, Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage.” It’s as if Albee, himself, were playing the ultimate parlor game, Getting Back at Mommy and Daddy. The fictional “bugger” of a son who relates to neither father nor mother is first imagined to be alive and then imagined to be dead. From a psy- chological standpoint this might well relate to Albee himself whose Grandmother was the one sympathetic character in such earlier one-acts as “The Sandbox” and The American Dream,” while Mommy and Daddy remain vacuus.

And so perhaps Albee has fleshed out Daddy and Mommy to become George and Martha. Virginia Kirshner, as director, has succeeded in painting this loveless landscape in lurid fleshtones. And yet this fictitious “lost son” seems to be the one link between them, a symbol of their bond. His ‘destruction represents a removal of any hypocrisy about the fantasy of fulfillment - they have only themselves to face now and must begin again there. And Virginia Kirshner knows that this ultimately lies beneath all the surface lacerations, resulting in the possibility of healing. I really felt that Kirshner understood this play in very much the same way in which we must understand that O‘Neill’s family in Long Day’s Journey into Night” love one another, despite themselves.

‘Totally credible’

Warren Manzi’s George is totally credible as Albee’s history professor. He makes Albee’s dialogue his own and convinces us that such words are hatched from his own brain. This gives him a kind of necessary objectivity, compared to Martha’s irrationality. The casting was most effective as he can appear dominated by Martha while having his own trump card all the time. Perhaps Rchard Burton was too equal and opposite a counterweight to Elizabeth Taylor.

We can see where Martha’s attempt at domination comes from. Betsy Connelly’s Martha comes straight from the loins of the college president and her ostensible power over her husband derives from this. Yet dinosaurs are now extinct! She calls herself an “earth mother” but remember that earth mothers are not always benign.

Albee’s animal imagery abounds, and this Martha brays, spits, sucks, and devours. When Martha’s self-dramatizing derives from a demon within, Connelly reaches full stature. When it is done for its own sake, we sometimes see her playing at being Martha rather than being Martha. But let there be no mistake about it, Martha has her own sense of theater and Connelly knows this.

The plot? Guests are invited. Nick is a new professor of biology at New Carthage. He is welcomed for a late night drink with his young wife, Honey. George and Martha play host. Sounds innocent enough. Open the door.

Nick and Honey are played initially with wide-eyed innocence by Jay McManus and Mary Calhoun. As they are lead through Albee’s “Walpurgisnacht” they gain a knowledge of some of their own subcutaneous structures. In a sense they represent the audience itself, drawn into the home of George and Martha, where instead of simply being given a guided tour, they become the initiates in a savage tribal ritual. Perhaps their counterparts are Charlie and Nancy in Albee’s “Seascape” who, gaining in self-knowledge from the visit of the lizards, will return to lives less superficial due to the plunge below the surface. As the evening wears on, Jay McManus’ Nick and Mary Calhoun’s Honey reveal fuller characters, though they begin with Albee’s caricatures.

The entire effect is one of a string quartet, made up of consummate musicians, called upon to play dissonant music which does not resolve itself before it has to do so.

Chris Childs’ comfortably shabby New England front parlor serves as the lions’ den where the animals pace and prowl, establishing their territories. I’m reminded of Jimmy Porter’s lines from Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger,” written a few years before:

  • Oh, It’s not that she hasn’t her own kind of passion. She has the passion of a python. She just devours me whole every time, as If I were some over-large rabbit.

Shortly before writing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in 1961-1962, Albee said of his one-act. “The American Dream” that “it is a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy-keen.” Fifteen years later, the Concord Players bring back one of America’s angry young men. He’s still angry.

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