Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, playing January 7 through March 6 in The Singleton Theatre, examines the human capacity for denial and fantasy through the intense and troubled marriage of a university couple, George and Martha.
The play begins as they return from a party hosted by Martha’s father, the president of the university. Though it’s now early the next morning, Martha has invited Nick and Honey over for drinks. “Daddy said to be nice to them.” But the couple is anything but nice.
George and Martha fight and then turn against the other couple. Their bitter words embarrass and fascinate Nick and Honey as George and Martha share some dark secrets.
Who’s Who in Virginia Woolf
When we first meet George we can see that he doesn’t control his world. His wife has invited a couple over for drinks and not told him. Already, the audience knows George must compete with his father-in-law for influence with his wife. At first, it seems as if Martha “wears the pants in the family,” but as the insults start flying he shows he can verbally wrestle with anyone.
Albee wrote that Martha is “a large, boisterous woman.” He hints that Martha’s father abandoned her emotionally, she constantly wants approval. She is a flawed, complex person who feels trapped by her circumstances. Albee named George and Martha for the nation’s first couple. He wanted to mirror George and Martha’s encountering of a world of shattered ideals to be reflective of what he saw as America’s shattered ideals in the early 1960s.
Keeping with his theme, Albee named Nick after Nikita Krushchev, the Soviet premier who was President Kennedy’s rival. Although he appears wholesome and sympathetic, we soon discover Nick is coldly calculating and blindly ambitious. The revelation that he is impotent is a larger statement that Albee makes about the “new generation” that Nick represents.
Honey appears to be a sheltered young woman with very little substance. Albee doesn’t even let us know her real name. Her childless relationship with Nick exists as a counterpoint to George and Martha. Honey’s need for motherhood is so great she suffers from a hysterical pregnancy, a psychological condition that mimics pregnancy.
Discover why this masterpiece is still so shockingly relevant today.
Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Jan 7 – Mar 6 • Singleton Theatre
Reprinted by permission of Syracuse Stage. Compiled by Nichole Gantshar, Syracuse Stage education office, with research, essays and other materials provided by Amy Steele, dramaturg at the Alley Theatre, and courtesy the Guthrie Theater, Belinda Westmaas Jones, editor.