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First Look: Director Margot Bordelon talks about Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at first rehearsal

 Margot Bordelon directs the DCPA Theatre Company’s production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She addressed the cast and crew on the first day of rehearsals by sharing her reflections on the play, its relevance to current issues and the questions she hopes they explore as a company.

I remember the precise moment I began reading Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for the first time. I was an 18-year-old acting student working weekends at Seattle’s Best Coffee (SBC), and on this particular Saturday, I was assigned to man the coffee bean cart inside the Westlake Center. There was an SBC coffee shop right outside the Center where I normally worked, so getting assigned to the cart inside — where we only sold beans and didn’t make drinks which meant zero tips — always felt like a demotion. But it was usually slow, so at least I could get my homework done. The first half of my shift was particularly glacial, so I finished my homework quickly. Searching for reading material I took the escalator down to Brentano’s Books on my break — and impassioned young theater student that I was — bought a copy of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  The title intrigued me. (I still have it. I paid $6.99 for it — which was definitely more than I was making an hour at SBC.) I went back to the bean cart, cracked open the play, and didn’t look up for the rest of my shift. I was dazzled by the wit, the savagery, and I imagined how fun it would be to play Honey — the clowning and depth required on her brandy-fueled journey.

I didn’t see the play live until 2010 at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. And what struck me about it then was how contemporary the story felt. What I’d read as a “dysfunctional 1960s marriage” on the page, in performance felt like a deeply humanized partnership between two equals with the power to destroy one another. I was 30 now and had been through some heart-wrenching relationships at this point — some real doozies! — and George and Martha’s simultaneous love and disgust for one another, need and aversion, resonated with me on a new level.

Ten years later, I’m struck by the backstory of infertility. I’ve watched my best friend go through multiple rounds of IVF over the course of a 5-year period, and the toll it took on her spirit. I read the play now and I think of the devastation Martha and George must’ve experienced discovering they were unable to have a child. I’ve watched friends I used to drink casually with in my 20s become addicted to alcohol, and the impact it’s had on their relationships and health.  And I wonder when it turned for George and Martha? I understand personally the pain of youthful plans failing to materialize, and the way that disappointment can be internalized.

And this is what great plays do. Allow for new and deeper connections and resonances each time we encounter them at different periods of our lives.

And so as we begin working on this production together, I wonder what resonances the play will hold for our audience today. What do we collectively want to bring out in our telling? How do we create a production that feels fresh and necessary in 2022?

The language will immediately draw the audience in: the writing is so damn good, it’s clever and funny, and brutal and surprising, and so deliciously rhythmic. Albee, a long-time lover of classical music, has written a score — a carefully crafted quartet. This play sings!

Then there’s the athleticism. The audience bears witness to four virtuoso actors embodying a full range of human emotions over the course of 3 live hours — congeniality to viciousness to devastating catharsis. This is durational theater — the 15 minutes that pass during the two intermissions are the same for audience and characters alike — and by the end we’ve experienced transformation together. A dark night of the soul that ends in daybreak.

But maybe the most important aspect to consider are the themes of truth and illusion, reality and fantasy that are woven throughout the play, and how these speak to our current moment. Albee’s central argument is that we must strip away our illusions in order to lead honest and effective lives. And of course, this applies directly to the George and Martha’s relationship (the imaginary child must die in order for them to move forward in an authentic way), but on a more macro level, Albee is urging American society to do the same. We can no longer subsist on illusions of equality and prosperity and superiority. We must have the courage to confront our problems openly and honestly if we ever hope to build a sustainable future for all of us.

How incredibly relevant. We are in the midst of a massive and necessary cultural shift in this country, and my hope is that our production will be in conversation with that. We have assembled a quartet of excellent actors and I’m eager to discover what we learn about the play when the story is told by these specific individuals. In our telling, we will see the story of two mixed couples, and naturally new questions will arise. Jon [Hudson Odom] — our wonderful George — and I met before rehearsals and started digging in to some of these questions: what does it mean for George to be married to a white woman and to have spent his career working to succeed in a Predominantly White Institution? What challenges did he face as he tried to ascend the academic ladder? What is Martha’s level of understanding around this? What does it mean for this specific history expert to challenge Nick’s study of genetics? The questions go on and on…

And I wonder: how will our telling illuminate the play in 2022, and will there be moments that butt up against Albee’s original intentions? It is a period piece, and though it’s a classic, Albee was also a product of his time in many ways— how do we contend with this 60 years later?

These are just some of the questions I have launching into this project. And what a gift it is to explore them here with this team at the Denver Center. My hope is that our next 6 weeks together are filled with discovery and care and rigor and so many laughs. To tackle the darkness we must first be filled with light.



Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Jan 7 – Mar 6, 2022 • Singleton Theatre