Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Oct. 14-17 & 20-24, 2010
by Heather E. Hamilton
Scenic Design by John W. Olive
Lighting Design by Jake Yenish
Costume Design by Molly Smith
Sound Design by George E. Grubb
George (Robb Krueger) gets wistful as he and Nick (Clayton Rutschow)
get to know each other over a drink.
While George and Nick share a moment of conversation, Martha (Shelley Whitehead) glares.
Nick and his wife, Honey (Molly Tucker) witness a somewhat rare moment
of tenderness between George and Martha.
Tensions burst forward between George and Martha, leaving Honey and Nick squirming.
And tension turns to physical confrontation.
Martha and Nick share a moment together.
Relationships strained, Nick and Honey depart.
Photos and poster by Mike Lagerquist
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opened on Broadway on October 13, 1962. That same month, the world
seemed poised on nuclear war when the United States faced off against the Soviet Union over the presence
of nuclear weapons on Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. During those tense thirteen days, Kennedy and
an executive council of advisors met and discussed the fate of the world.
On October 18, only five days after the opening of Albee's play, when faced with the question of whether to warn
Khrushchev before striking Berlin, President Kennedy mused, "And then if he says: ?If you are going to do that,
we're going to grab Berlin.' . . . He'll grab Berlin, of course. Then either way it would be, we lost Berlin, because of
Albee's play was clearly a product of its time. Indeed, the profanity and hateful words between
George and Martha that so shocked audiences in the 1960's now seem commonplace to an American
public accustomed to Jerry Springer and other television shows of that ilk. Such was not the case, however, in 1962
America, still lingering in the halcyon days of 1950's optimism. This was a time before Vietnam, before Watergate,
before the Camelot era ended with Kennedy's assassination. Honey and Nick, the young married couple who stumble into
George and Martha's marital battlefield, are products of that era. Notably, Albee does not praise them or set them
up as standards of perfection. Rather, he demonstrates that at their cores, they are hollow and flawed. Honey and Nick
function as surrogates for the audience inducted into George and Martha's chaotic world. In recognizing their
commonality with this young couple, the audience is forced to comprehend Albee's criticism of the American dream.
At the time that Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was produced, Albee was already a successful and noteworthy new
playwright, most well known for his one-act, The Zoo Story. Both plays showcase his talent for combining realism
and absurdism. The audience ? the very audience whose dreams and assumptions Albee sought to critique ? was immediately
polarized by Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The play was an enormous commercial success. Many audience members
and critics lauded it as revolutionary and as marking a new era in American drama. Within the decade,
Albee became the second most produced playwright, after Shakespeare, on college campuses. (Albee's biggest
competition for that spot was with Eugene Ionesco, another absurdist playwright.)
But many of the people who saw Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? during its 1962 run found its language and sexual
content shocking and labeled it "perverse" and "dirty minded." While this debate raged far and wide, even
among those who had not seen the play, it had specific ramifications in the world of theater critics. The committee
selected to choose the play that would be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1962 voted to make
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the winner. However, the Pulitzer Prize is overseen by Columbia University, and the
trustees of the university decided that Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'s explicit language, interest in "taboo" subjects,
and controversial public reception made it the wrong choice. Though it had won the vote, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? did not
receive the award, which was not given to any play that year as a result.
Nonetheless, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Tony Award for Best Play
that year. Albee has won three Pulitzers in years since. The production, which ran at the Billy Rose Theatre, featured Uta Hagen
as Martha, Arthur Hill as George, George Grizzard as Nick, and Melinda Dillon as Honey, and was directed by Alan Schneider.