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Albee - Plays directory


Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: summary
EDWARD ALBEE is author of the following plays: The Zoo Story (Vernon Rice Award), The Death of Bessie Smith, Fam and Yam, The American Dream (Foreign Press Association Award), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Tony and Drama Critics Circle awards for best play), The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Tiny Alice, Malcolm, A Delicate Balance (Pulitzer Prize), Everything in the Garden, Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, All Over, Seascape (Pulitzer Prize), Listening, Counting the Ways, The Lady from Dubuque, Lolita, The Man Who Had Three Arms, Finding the Sun, Marriage Play, Three Tall Women (Pulitzer Prize), The Lorca Play, and FragmentsA Concerto Grosso. He has directed The Zoo Story (1961, and after, Off-Broadway and tours), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1976 Broadway revival and 1989 Los Angeles revival featuring Glenda Jackson and John Lithgow), Listening and Counting the Ways (1977 American premiere), Albee Directs Albee (all of the one-act plays, tour, and at the Kennedy Center), Marriage Play (world premiere, English Theatre, Vienna, 1987, and American premiere), Krapps Last Tape and Ohio Impromptu by Samuel Beckett (Alley Theatre, Houston, 1991), Three Tall Women (world premiere, English Theatre, Vienna, 1991), and Happy Days by Samuel Beckett (Alley Theatre, Houston, 1993). He continues to direct many of his plays in the U.S. and Europe. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild Council, P.E.N. American, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, International Theatre Institute USA (President), and the Edward F. Albee Foundation, Inc. (President). He has received the Gold Medal in Drama from the Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition to the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Mr. Albee received Best Play awards from the New York Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle, and Lucille Lortel for Three Tall Women, as well as an Obie Award for Sustained Achievement. The recent Lincoln Center Broadway production of his play A Delicate Balance won a Tony Award for best revival. Mr. Albee is a 1996 recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Character List:

Martha: The fifty-two-year-old wife of a college history professor. Martha defines herself through her "Daddy," the president of the college in the New England town of New Carthage. In her past, after her mother died when Martha was a child, she attended a convent school and young ladies' junior college, where she fell in love with a blue collar gardener and married him on a whim. Her shocked, upstanding father quickly annulled the marriage though it was consummated and brought her home, where she reveled in the power of playing hostess for her widowed father. She chose George, believing he had potential to become the head of the history department and eventually to replace her father as president of the university. George's failure to rise to this position is her biggest disappointment, and she refuses to let her husband see just how much of a disappointment he is to her. Now 52, Martha is a braying, heavy-drinking embarrassment, who seduces new faculty member Nick just to anger George and has no qualms about airing her dirty laundry in front of guests. Martha's decision to share the story of their imaginary son with the guests breaks the unspoken rules of the emotionally cruel games she plays with George and leads to chaos.

George: Forty-six years old and an acknowledged failure. George is in the history department, though much to Martha's chagrin, he is not the head of the history department. As a teenage boy he may have accidentally shot his mother and accidentally killed his father in a car crash. Or this may be just a fiction he has created. George's professional high-point came during the war when he was left in charge of the department while the other faculty members were serving in the military. Since then, he has written an autobiographical novel, the publication of which was forbidden by Martha's father. Always in the shadow of his father-in-law, whom he calls a great white mouse with red eyes, George plays along with Martha's games. When alone with her, he ignores her as much as possible. But when she launches into a game of Humiliate the Host, exposing his most painful secrets to Nick and Honey, George decides to strike back. Unable to control his wife, George usually retreats into his history books. He makes the biggest power play of his life here, "killing" the imaginary son he shares with Martha, thus punishing her for bringing their illusion into the harsh light of reality.

Nick: Nick is thirty years old and blond, a young genius who received his Master's degree at twenty. He grew up in the Midwest with his wife Honey, whom he knew since childhood. Though he initially appears to love his wife, it becomes evident that he married her for her money and because she was pregnant with what turned out to be a hysterical pregnancy. An ambitious new member of the college's biology department, Nick is the golden-haired boy who just might succeed where George failed taking every opportunity offered to him to get ahead, including sex with faculty wives. At first, he acts horrified by George and Martha's antics but soon becomes drawn in. He attempts to sleep with Martha and is proved impotent.

Honey: Nick's twenty-six-year-old wife. She's frail and "slim-hipped." Honey is rich, left money by her late evangelist father. She drowns her sorrows in brandy, getting silly and childlike. She suffered a hysterical pregnancy, which led Nick to marry her. While drunk, she confesses to George her fear of the pain of childbirth and of getting pregnant which she is, unbeknownst to Nick, preventing secretly. Drunk and throwing up in the bathroom for most of the play, Honey is the most innocent of all the characters. Her immediate reactions to the chaos around her function as a sort of Greek chorus on George and Martha's marriage.

Albe is not in textbooks for DramLit and Playscript classes. Too bad.

Every time I come to the end of the high modernity, I want to link American Drama with postmodernism. First, I was born after WW I; American dramatic writers began where the old Europe ended.

In the dramlit'00 I made Oscar Wilde the last before going into the American Century. "The Importance of Being Eanerst" is not just a comedy, but a parody on the comedy as genre. It's based on this notion of the total self-irony the postmodern famous for. Parady on the Victorian (Imperial England), (high) society, eduction, individuals, humanity and even the feelings! What is real? (Wilde is read next to Pirandello).

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The Real is in question!
Main Themes:

Reality vs. Illusion: Edward Albee has said that the song, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" means "Who is afraid to live without illusion?" At the end of the play, Martha says that she is. Indeed, the illusion of their son sustains George and Martha's tempestuous marriage. Ultimately, George takes it upon himself to "kill" that illusion when Martha brings it too far into reality. Throughout the play, illusion seems indistinguishable from reality. It is difficult to tell which of George and Martha's stories about their son, about George's past are true or fictional. Similarly, Nick and Honey's lives are based on illusion. Nick married for money, not love. Though he looks strong and forceful, he is impotent. Honey has been deceiving him by using birth control to prevent pregnancy. As an Absurdist, Albee believed that a life of illusion was wrong because it created a false content for life, just as George and Martha's empty marriage revolves around an imaginary son. In Albee's view, reality lacks any deeper meaning, and George and Martha must come to face that by abandoning their illusions.

Games and War: The title of the first act is "Fun and Games." That in itself is deceptive, for the games that George and Martha play with their guests are not the expected party games. Rather, their games of Humiliate the Host, Get the Guests, and Hump the Hostess which involves the characters' deepest emotions. George's characterization of these emotionally destructive activities as games and assumption of the role of ring master reveals that all the events of the evening are part of a power struggle between him and Martha, in which one of them intends to emerge as victor. Martha and George's verbal banter and one upsmanship is also characteristic of their ongoing game-playing. Years of marriage have turned insults into a finely honed routine. By characterizing these activities of games, Albee does not suggest that they are frivolous or meaningless. Rather, he likens game-playing to war and demonstrates the degree to which George and Martha are committed to destroying each other. George and Martha in fact declare "all out war" on each other. What begins as a game and a diversion escalates over the course of the play until the characters try to destroy each other and themselves.

History vs. Biology: George and Nick's academic departments at New Carthage College set up a dialectic in which Albee presents a warning about the future of life. George is an associate professor in the History Department, while Nick is a new member of the Biology Department. Old, tired, and ineffectual, George exemplifies the subject that he teaches. What's more, he notes that no one pays attention to the lessons of history just as Nick ignores George's sincere advice, responding contemptuously, "Up your!" Nick, as a representative of science, is young and vital. In the words of George, he is the "wave of the future." Through Nick and George's argument about Biology and History, Albee demonstrates two clashing worldviews. George's lack of success in the History Department and inability to rise to power as successor to the president of the college contrasts with Nick's plans and seeming ability to move ahead first taking over the Biology Department, then the college. Albee clearly intends for us to perceive Nick's (half-joking) plan as a threat. George's criticism of Biology's ability to create a race of identical test tube babies all like Nick and Nick's ruthless willingness to take any means necessary (including sleeping with factory wives) to get ahead reveals the absence of morality and frightening uniformity in a future determined by science. What's more, in exposing seemingly virile Nick's impotence, Albee demonstrates the underlying powerlessness of science and in George's perseverance, the unexpected staying power of history.

The American Dream: The title of one of his earlier plays, the American Dream was a significant concern of Albee's. In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, he explores the illusion of an American dream that masks a core of destruction and failure. Writing during the Cold War, Albee was responding to a public that was just beginning to question the patriotic assumptions of the 1950's. His George and Martha reference patriotic namesakes George and Martha Washington. Albee uses this symbolic first couple's unhappy marriage as a microcosm for the imperfect state of America. When George and Martha's marriage is revealed to be a sham based on the illusion of an imaginary son, the viewer is led to question the illusions that similarly prop up the American dream. Nick and Honey, a conventional American dream couple, are also revealed to be presenting a falsely happy façade. They too secretly take advantage of and lie to each other. What's more, Nick's name is a direct reference to Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, and his threat to George and Martha's marriage references the Cold War turmoil of America.

The Christian allegory: Subtle references to Christianity, particularly to Catholic rites and rituals, abound in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. For instance, Martha refers to her (imaginary) son as a "poor lamb," making him a Christ symbol for Jesus is also known as the Lamb of God. George chants the Kyrie Eleison, Dies Irae, and Requiem from Catholic liturgy. The doorbells chimes which sound at the end of the second act echo the chimes that sound during a Catholic mass. Albee even names the third act of the play "The Exorcism." That name, of course, refers to George's attempt to kill the "son" and thus exorcise illusion from his marriage. The killing of the "lamb" can also be seen as a sacrifice necessary to save George and Martha's marriage. George calls the proceedings "an Easter pageant," referencing the day the Lamb of God was sacrificed to save the world, and the scene even takes place early on a Sunday morning.

Love and Hate: In his portrayal of George and Martha's marriage, Albee seems to make the not-uncommon literary assertion that love and hate are two parts of a single whole. From their vitriolic banter, it clearly appears that George and Martha hate each other. In fact, they say as much and even pledge to destroy each other. Nonetheless, there are moments of tenderness that contradict this hatred. George even tells Nick not to necessarily believe what he sees. Some of George and Martha's arguments are for show, others are for the challenge of arguing, while still others are indeed meant to hurt each other. However, Martha's declaration that George is really the only one who can satisfy her suggests that there are or have been positive aspects to their marriage. Clearly, as much as they fight, they also need each other, even if just to maintain the illusions that keep them going.

Martha and George invented their past, too.

Postmodern simply followed the logic of the existentialism, which asked every individual to construct his own meaning from the meaningless existence. Everything from nothing? Would it be always "Nothing"? (Nihilism and Nietzsche).

Self-made American... Nobody, Everyman. By himself. No family, no tradition, no children, no past... no future. "American Tragedy" -- said Miller. Firs from Chekhov's immigrated to America and achieved his "American Dream"...

Individualism? (Remember the Romantics?)

How about Realism?

Serious subtext in Wilde's comedies... Enjoy your empty lives! Have a fun!

Serious Americans are very serious. They read Beckett.

What is next? Pinter, Shepard...

Americans are the new begining... How does it look like?

Albe is at the end of this line: O'Neil -- Williams -- Miller. He is "American" (no less than Shepard or Mamet). His George with his love for Europe is very American. Europeans lost it with aristocracy, America never had it.

TOTAL WAR: Albee and His Play

Who is Afraid of Kafka? (Prague Production)[1] We afraid of truth, life and ourselves. America is the greatest denail. We deny death, pain, mystery. "Everything is a miracle, or nothing is miraculous." (Einstein). We believe the later. We dismissed everything REAL in order to be happy. The Real is dead.

What is Truth and what is Illusion? The end of truth (PM) The question is illigitimate nowadays.

The old myths.
Oedipean, Oresteian -- the slayer of his parents. Hero, the murderer.
George's parents: fictional murders? Fiction is REAL.

American love story.
Why don't they fight the world? War with whom? Daddy? Father of Honey; God and money. American success stories.

Global or American; that's how the victory of the American Age looks like.
Reaction to Revolution (Age) is also a revolution.
_Endgame_ by Beckett and the set design: checkmate or/and stalemate. Study of the end. Frozen finale. INACTION. Chekhov. The end of the sense of causalty. And reason. Theory of accidents. Logic of feelings.
_Catastrophe_? Man, hero.

My questions (structure):

1. Symbolism (Quest for Message)
2. Plot (3 acts)
3. Characters. Psychological realism: questions of a human behavior. The Americans.

Suggestions (texture) as METHODS:

4. Language (Stream of dialogue, monologue, life)
5. Music (Themes, melody, Style -- Albee) 6. Spectacle (stage directions)

What is STYLE?

Aristotle: pity and fear!

We give birth to unsubstantial hopes, they are our children.

Fight is the only real means of communication. That's how we're connected with our own Selves. With others. Everything else is a lie.

Hypocrisy is the real cruelty.

Frustration, despair, hatred -- became the energy of the pm world. Even an impotence is creative. [ topics and themes ]

Illusion as a protection. From life. Illusion as life (tradition of Williams).

Martha's son. A child. Immacular conception: Father, Son and H. Ghost. Christ is fictional. Even dies a fictional death.

Love? Lets talk about love.
Love as an answer to everything, the perfect remedy (Christ), but how does this ultimate solution work? How do we pay? Lets talk about NATURE of love.

Let me tell you about something more easy to understand -- the HATRED. Or jealousy. Maybe, envy.

St. Augustine[2]: sex (selfish, Private) destroys Love (sacrifice > child, losing yourself, both, overcoming)

Sex as Agony of Love (parody). Sexual revolution, the end of the gender. The angelic world without men and women. (Foucault)

Self-hatred (indication of heroism) is life, to be alive < Self-awareness: inner conflict.

Battle of the Sexes[3]

Elizabethan theme: Benedick and Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing).

G can forgive M for infidelities only if it done because of pain, attempts to stay alive -- to make him love her.


Virginia Woolf (feminist): madness drove her to suicide.

Historical symbolism[4] -- How many time they say "Jesus!"? The first word of the play. Christian symbols.

Oswald Spengler _Sunset (Decline) of the West_
America: Illyria... (Twelveth Night) Penguin Island.... (Anatole France) Gomorrah (Lot's wife was turned to a pillar of salt). New England. New Carthage (New City), city of Hannibal who burned Rome. Found in the ninth century B.C. by a deceitful Dido. Across the Adriatic, in Africa (Aeneas). The Romans razed it to the grounds in 146. St. Augustine (Confessions) calls is "a cauldron of unholy loves."

The first childless First Couple -- George and Martha Washington. George Washington who couldn't tell a lie.


How simple was their modernist universe (Tennessee Williams). They lived within the same (common) space and time, not us, not anymore. They lived in America. We live in a fictionalized country. Simulacra. We all (like Amanda, Martha, George) imagine our America and live in it. How the simulacra could exist without the original? (Baudrillard) Can we destinguish a copy from the original? (Question to Deleuze).

Living in time, not space -- and both disapper. See INACTION. Nothing takes place and can't take place.

Director's Notes:

woolf 5.14,97

Saturday -- Thanksgiving?

Winter. Coats, gloves, pants everywhere.

Arctic entry? Two doors, like a cage.

Everything in two: "Martha's," "George's." Two computers, two tvs. Two coffee-makers. Two phones and two rocking chairs. Even two refrigerators? (George goes to get ice.)

Portrait(s) of the father, the president (Commissar?)

Alaska: map. Fairbanks Radio Talk show (live); pre-show sound, intermission.

TV local, no sound, fuzzy pictures.

Fishing, camping gear, guns? Traps. Staffed fish and animals.

Lamps, they're on, darkness. Candles?

The house (labyrinth -- bathroom, kitchen, bar, all together), the place is staffed with extra furniture, desks, shelves, papers, bottles, fast food, stereo, souvenirs (Home Sweet Home), clocks, too many, etc. Extra everything. Above -- suspended as the attic with more trash? Treasured trash.

George: History Dept. Books. His manuscript.

They play cards? When?

Set: Very close to the audience, as if they are inside the house. Let them enter through the house doors?

The ending: how is the love theme expressed? How did their love turn out this way? Where are the tender moments?

Presence of their son? Anything?

More? See SHOWS, Woolf page -- read about the UAF production.



Albee is for THR413 only: The Zoo Story (Fall 2003), p.545 Modertn Drama, Walter Levy. Jerry (Jesus) and Peter. Two strangers, two lives. Murder and suicide. American Dream, again.

American Absurdism: connections with Williams + Ionesco. Pinter, Shepard.

"200 words" must be posted on dramlit forum.

Next: back to Hamlet?
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