Edward Albee's 1962 play, Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf , is one gem of a piece. Very powerful and emotional, extremely disturbing at the same time. A play in 3 acts over one night among two couple, one middle aged and the other young. Nick and Honey comes to the house of George and Martha as guests one night, after an evening party hosted by Martha's father and the owner of the institution where George and Nick works. As the night grew over them, and the alcohol consumption, the game of humiliation and insult and the internal struggle among the families are brought forward in all its dirty form. As it takes turn from one participant to the other to be the victim of the hour, bringing people to the verge of breakdown and physical abuse. A night long battle, betrayal , confrontations and mental torture makes every one exposed , and reconcile as the day break upon them.
Both Martha and George has to let out their accumulated bitterness of life. They both carry a huge burden of their past. Martha, a fathers daughter, grown up without her mother. Every attempt of her life to come out of the influence of her father failed. A failed first marriage, the compromise marriage with George who is six years younger to please her father and her subsequent failure in realising George to challenge her father. She wanted George to be smarter, take the reign of her fathers empire, to stand up to her father. To her disappointment, George failed to grow to that stature. Their inability to conceive and have children, which is her last resort in settling with her father only adds to the pain. George on the other hand has his on baggage to get rid off. His parents are died ( I killed them , he says) when he was young. Taking the moral responsibility of the death, he even writes a novel with this as a theme, only to be ridiculed and trashed by his father-in-law. His emotional and physical impotency plays a major role in his relationship with his wife and the world. In the end he invents a "son" for them and kills him in an accident as he has written in his novel, to decisively conclude the issue of potency and child with his wife and to succumbs to the fate. Even under this circumstance, we can see the glimpses of the fondness and affection between them surfacing often.
I cry alllll the time; but deep inside, so no one can see me. I cry all the time. And George cries all the time, too. We both cry all the time, and then, what we do, we cry, and we take our tears and we put 'em in the ice box, in the goddamn ice trays until they are frozen and then...we put them ... in our drinks.
The insult and abuse does not spare anyone. In the second act, it turns towards Nick and Honey, exposing them with the bitter truth of their life. The story of Nick and Honey is not very different. They too are fighting the battle of of their own. Honey doesn't want a child but to remain a child herself. They know each other from childhood, and eventually marry each other. As the act progresses, they too comes out vulnerable and unhappy over the turn of things. They are not only witnessing the war between the other couple, but the're witnessing their own future unfolding.
This is one play with multiple interpretation possible. It could be a family drama or anger, frustration and despair, where the hidden feelings are brought to the open by the situation. There was also one interpretation here comparing it to the cold war era, the stand off between US and USSR. One of the idea could be to bring out the conflicts, turmoil, hope and despair of the people, hidden beneath their appearance, thus giving them the relief. At the end, as everyone is bruised and battered, the life opens to a new dawn.
One fantastic book, and regret not giving enough of my reading time on plays over the years.
Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf ?
Here are two superb essays on this book by Bill Johnson and Shirley Galloway