I Just Read: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐☆

So while I didn’t technically just read this play, as I took it out from the library over a month ago, I did just complete it. One aspect of my new blog is book reviews, which will include dramatic scripts, as is the case today. The first play I read in my quest to become a better writer and to read more often, is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf published by Edward Albee in 1962.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf follows the story of middle-aged married couple Martha and George, who have just returned to their New England home from a University faculty party late at night. Martha has invited a younger married couple, Nick and Honey, to their house after the party for a drink. Nick, who serves as a new biology professor on campus, and Honey then must endure an entire night of “fun and games” with this couple as George and Martha proceed to peel back the surface of their own lives and the lives of this young couple.

This story is much less plot-driven as it is character driven. A lot of the character’s motivations and secrets are revealed through long conversations between two or more characters. This, for me, both helped and hindered my opinion of the play. On the one hand, this greatly affected the pacing of the story because there was so little story. For the first act into the second act of the play, it felt like nothing was really happening or being developed. Things about the characters would slowly be revealed through long conversations, and at times this made the story really drag on for me and leave me frustrated that not much was happening.

From the 1966 film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, directed by Mike Nichols. From left to right, Nick (George Segal), Martha (Elizabeth Taylor), and George (Richard Burton).

With that being said, how the play really benefited with being so character driven, is that I found these characters to be super fascinating. Martha, the campus president’s daughter, and George, an associate professor of history, are constantly at each other’s throats, trying to both embarrass each other and get the upper hand. While it did get rather tedious listening to them consistently insult each other, I think that was the point. Both George and Martha seem as though they want to “win” at this game they call their marriage. It’s rather compelling and invigorating trying to figure out what George and Martha will pull out of their sleeve next, and what embarrassing relic from their past they will use to humiliate the other. It comes to the point when in the final act when they both start insulting Nick, and their motivations aren’t even that clear anymore. It makes them seem all the more human. Even Nick and Honey, who seem like a simple and rather dull young married couple, are discovered during this one night to have their own secrets beneath the surface of their seemingly innocent marriage.

Overall, I found the character’s to be very compelling, between the way both of their marriages are exposed for what they are, to the large, twisted, and even quite depressing, end result of all of this (which I had to look up afterward to fully understand), to the clashes of tension between characters. What really bogs this story down for me is the pacing which can often get tedious as we have to wait through long conversations before all that much is really discovered.

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