Citation
Laughter, violence, and a whole lot of gin

Material Information

Title:
Laughter, violence, and a whole lot of gin a study in the direction of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Creator:
Blanchard, Joshua David
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
xi, 115 leaves : ; 28 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Degree:
Master's ( Master of Humanities)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Humanities

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Albee, Edward) ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 114-115).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Joshua David Blanchard.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
71800445 ( OCLC )
ocm71800445
Classification:
LD1193.L58 2006m B52 ( lcc )

Full Text
/
LAUGHTER, VIOLENCE, AND A WHOLE LOT OF GIN:
A STUDY IN THE DIRECTION OF EDWARD ALBEES
WHOS AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
Joshua David Blanchard
B.A., University of Texas at Dallas, 2001
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
2006
by


The thesis for the Master of Humanities
degree by
Joshua David Blanchard
has been approved
by
Jake York
Laura Cuetara
Date


Blanchard, Joshua David (M.H.)
Laughter, Violence, and a Whole Lot of Gin: A Study in the Direction of
Edward Albees Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Catherine Wiley
ABSTRACT
To fully understand the implications of a piece of dramatic literature is
to synthesize the playwrights text with the unique group that constitutes a
theatre ensemble. Edward Albees Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? remains
a hallmark of Modern American Drama, but to understand it completely is to
delve into the script, giving actors the lines to say, designers the environment
to create, and a director the authority to envision. This written thesis
explores the process of producing Albees great work from the perspective of
director.
For my thesis option, I opted to analyze both a text and a
cultural/artistic performance. Furthermore, as director, I guided each aspect
of the production itself. This written thesis introduces Albees text and
explains the purpose of the production. It further examines personal choices
I made as the director and how I directed the actors and designers in the


process. Much of the written thesis explores my textual interpretation of the
plays genre, characters, subject, plot, and theme. It examines my
understanding of the characters relationships and how those relationships
support Albees thematic notions. Additionally, this written thesis
investigates Albees unique language and how we, as theatre practitioners,
handled it within the realm of production.
Overall, the thesis hopes to illustrate the unique endeavor of
producing theatre, specifically Edward Albees Whos Afraid of Virginia
Woolf?. It hopes to express a glimpse of the talent and hard work devoted to
the process and production of an incredible piece of dramatic literature.
This abstract accurately represents the content of thejsandidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to Christopher Alleman, Renee Blanchard, and Heath
Blanchard.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I thank Catherine Wiley, Jake York, and Laura Cuetara for their
encouragement, patience, and inspiration. I thank Gary and Kelly
Ketzenbarger and Matt and Kelly Renoux for their talent, trust, dedication,
and friendship.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION......................................... 1
Purpose of the Study.............................. 1
The Text.......................................... 2
The Production.................................... 4
Thesis Exploration................................. 6
2. DIRECTOR CHOICES AND TEXTUAL COMPREHENSION... 9
Directing in the Round............................ 9
Casting........................................... 11
3. DEFINING THE GENRE................................... 13
The Acts.......................................... 15
The Characters.................................... 17
4. DEFINING THE SUBJECT, PLOT, AND THEME................ 22
Subject........................................... 22
Plot.............................................. 25
Characters................................... 26
Action....................................... 44
Theme............................................. 46
5. DEFINING THE RELATIONSHIPS........................... 48
George and Martha..................................48
Nick and Honey.................................... 53
vii


George and Nick..................................... 56
George and Honey.................................... 59
Martha and Nick..................................... 61
Martha and Honey.................................... 64
Relationship Types.................................. 66
6. THE LANGUAGE OF ALBEE.................................. 69
Repetition...........................................69
Word Correction..................................... 73
Imagery............................................. 75
Non-verbal Communication............................ 79
7. DIRECTING THE PLAY..................................... 83
Process Timeline.................................... 83
Overseeing the Design Elements...................... 86
Set Design.................................... 87
Lighting Design............................... 89
Costume Design................................ 93
Sound Design...................................99
Blocking and Staging................................101
Rules of the Round............................102
Power Placement...............................106
Stage Combat and Choreography.................108
8. SUMMATION..............................................112
viii


BIBLIOGRAPHY
114
IX


FIGURES
Figure 1.1 Theater Layout.............................................5
Figure 4.1 Georges Emotional Vulnerability..........................30
Figure 4.2 Marthas Masculine Sexuality..............................33
Figure 4.3 Marthas Private Emotional Distress.......................34
Figure 4.4 Nicks Confession.........................................37
Figure 4.5 The Bad News..............................................42
Figure 4.6 Honeys Plea..............................................43
Figure 5.1 Baby Talk.................................................50
Figure 5.2 The Ultimate Challenge....................................51
Figure 5.3 Marthas Plea.............................................52
Figure 5.4 Nick and Honeys Arrival..................................54
Figure 5.5 Nick and Honeys Decay....................................56
Figure 5.6 Georges Inquisition......................................58
Figure 5.7 George and Honey..........................................61
Figure 5.8 Martha and Nick...........................................62
Figure 5.9 Post Coital...............................................64
Figure 5.10 Martha and Honey..........................................65
Figure 6.1 Dancing...................................................72
Figure 7.1 Set Layout................................................88
Figure 7.2 Window Effect
91


Figure 7.3 Front Door Light Cue.....................................92
Figure 7.4 Final Lighting Cue.......................................93
Figure 7.5 Marthas First Costume...................................94
Figure 7.6 Marthas Second Costume..................................95
Figure 7.7 Georges Costume.........................................96
Figure 7.8 Costume Comparison.......................................98
Figure 7.9 Honeys Costume......................................... 99
Figure 7.10 Blocking Diagram........................................103
Figure 7.11 Example of In-the-Round Blocking.......................104
Figure 7.12 Example of In-the-Round Blocking 2......................105
Figure 7.13 George in a Position of Power...........................107
Figure 7.14 George Attacks Marta....................................109
Figure 7.15 Martha Attacks George...................................110
XI


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Purpose of Study
As a student of theatre and literature, I am challenged by how the two
disciplines work in tandem to propel a story to transfer from page to stage.
To explore this journey, this Masters Thesis will be an analysis of a text and
artistic performance and how both the text and performance influence each
other during the processes of rehearsal and production.
To fully analyze a selection of dramatic literature is to experience the
challenging, yet rewarding process of presenting a play in full production. In
order to comprehend character, story, and theme, a complete textual
analysis of dramatic literature must not only include quiet study, but also be
accompanied with a full production. Only through table work, discussion,
rehearsal, and performance can a true literary analysis of dramatic
literature occur. Because theatre is the most collaborative of all art forms,
those involved constantly examine the text while surrendering their creative
input. A synthesis between textual character and an actors interpretation of
character must interface in order to truly comprehend, or even attempt to
comprehend, the playwrights vision, meaning, and story. Furthermore, the
directors interpretation of the text, the characters, the story, and the
1


playwrights intent creates the ultimate symbiosis of writer and visionary,
resulting in the fully realized comprehension of the dramatic literature itself.
The literary text I have examined and directed is Edward Albees
Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? While many scholars and theater
practitioners have written extensively about the play for which he is still best
known, I have directed and, along with a team of actors and designers,
envisioned afresh, artistic production (Bottoms 1).
The Text
Edward Albee wrote Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1962, and the
play successfully opened in New York at the Billy Rose Theatre on October
13, 1962. The play consists of three separate acts entitled Fun and
Games, Walpurgisnacht, and The Exorcism. Edward Albee sets Virginia
Woolf between the hours of 2:00 and 6:00 a.m. in the living room of George,
a college professor at a small university in the New England town of New
Carthage.
Albee creates four characters for his text. George is an
underappreciated and unsuccessful forty-something history professor at the
small New England university. Georges outgoing, slightly older wife Martha
is the daughter of the universitys president. Nick is an ambitious, athletic,
newly appointed biology professor at the university, and Nicks unassuming
2


wife Honey is a mousy type with no hips. While only four characters exist
on stage, Marthas father, the universitys president, and George and
Marthas son, who Albee constructs to be away at his first year of college,
play important roles in the action and story of the play.
Albee thrusts the four on-stage characters together when Martha
invites the younger couple of Nick and Honey to her home after a faculty
party for conversation and more drinking. When George asks Martha why
Nick and Honey must come over to their house at such a late hour, Martha
responds Because Daddy says we should be nice to them, thats why (1.1).
The story unravels after the characters reveal secrets about their marriages
to one another, creating a climate of humor, resentment, envy, anger,
humiliation, commitment, and pain.
While the characters express a variety of emotional and mental states,
they surprisingly display wit, knowledge, and trickery. The action of the play
forces each character and couple to question the reality and fiction of their
lives, relationships and choices. The outcome is devastating, but promises
change for George and Martha who have existed for years in an environment
of lies and fantasy.
3


The Production
Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ran for fifteen performances from May
27-June 26, 2005 at the Lake Dillon Theatre at 176 Lake Dillon Drive, Dillon,
CO, 80435. Performances were scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30
p.m. and Sundays at 6:30 pm. Located 70 miles west of Denver, the Lake
Dillon Theatre is roughly an eight-hundred and twenty square feet, black box
theater. As the name suggests, the theatre is nothing more than a black box
roughly twenty-eight and a half feet wide by twenty-eight and a half feet long.
A lighting grid symmetrically hangs from the theaters ceiling, allowing for
lighting designers to hang and focus lighting instruments in virtually any
direction. Each performance of Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ran
approximately three hours and ten minutes with two ten-minute
intermissions. I set the play at the time of the original date of production, fall
1962. The theatre sat forty-one patrons for each performance. I staged the
performance in the round, meaning the audience sat on all four sides of the
set (fig. 1.1).
The cast consisted of Gary and Kelly Ketzenbarger who played
George and Martha and Matt and Kelly Renoux who played Nick and
4


Fig.1.1. Theater Layout. This birds-eye-view of the theater layout for Who s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf? shows the set in relation to the audience For this figure, each inch equals four feet.
The theater sat a total of forty-one seats, with seats on all sides of the set. Set design by
Christopher Alleman.
Honey. Rebecca Volker served as stage manager and sound and light
technician for the production. Christopher Alleman, Executive Director for
the Lake Dillon Theatre Company, designed the lights and set. I designed
the costumes, sound and props.
The primary purpose of this production of Whos Afraid of Virginia
Woolf? was not to produce this graduate thesis. Rather, the Lake Dillon
5


Theatre Committee selected this play as part of the Lake Dillon Theatre
Companys seventh theatre season. The process to produce and direct a
play at the Lake Dillon Theatre is a simple one; a director submits a shortlist
of plays that s/he wants to direct accompanied by a short directors thesis for
each play. The Lake Dillon Theatre committee, which consists of Lake Dillon
Foundation for the Performing Arts board members, several community
members, and the foundations Executive Director Chris Alleman, selects the
upcoming seasons plays that serve the theatres mission statement and
goals. In March 2004, the committee slated a production of Whos Afraid of
Virginia Woolf? with me as the director for May of 2005.
In September 2004, I opted for the study, direction, and completion of
this production to be the subject of my graduate thesis. So while the process
included an academic approach to studying the text, the production served
as not only an academic and artistic endeavor, but as a commercial,
business product, as well.
Thesis Exploration
A directors authority to interpret and visualize a dramatic work from
page to stage is the foundation of any theatrical performance. To deny the
director his interpretation and vision of the text is to deny the playwright his
pen. The language of the stage is what brings the language of the text to its
6


complete and inevitable form. Thus, the directors responsibility is to work in
tandem with the playwright and his intentions while interpreting the literature
itself.
Albees text invokes questions that not only dabble in the disciplines of
theatre and literature, but also explore the fields of psychology, sociology,
culture, and social anthropology. Exceptional playwrights place characters
into situations that force audience members to question the story, action and
choices onstage while reflecting on personal issues relating to ethics within
the realm of culture. This thesis is primarily interested in how I, as director,
envisioned, directed, and guided Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Secondly,
this thesis explores how those involved as actors and designers collaborated
on a unique, powerful, and successful production. For this thesis, I will
explain the synthesis between Albees text and my interpretation as the
director. For both textual analysis and performance, I have examined the
following questions:
1) How did the synthesis between the text and my interpretation of
the text affect my immediate directing choices?
2) How did I define the plays genre?
3) To me, what were Albees subject and theme and how did they fuel
the characters and action to insight audience reaction and tell a
story?
7


4) How did the relationship roles of the characters affect the plays
actions and characters choices?
5) How and to what extent did I interpret Albees use of language to
create this unique production?
6) What specific directing challenges did I face to accomplish a
theatrical production of the text?
When approaching the text from the directors perspective, I considered each
of these areas of exploration and how they would impact the overall
performance of the text. Furthermore, my interpretation of the text fueled not
only my blocking and staging choices, but also my direction of the acting,
design elements, and shape of the performance. Finally, this thesis hopes to
clearly express how, accompanied by the artistic collaboration of actors and
designers, I directed this commercially successful and artistically compelling
production.
8


CHAPTER 2
DIRECTOR CHOICES AND TEXTUAL COMPREHENSION
All theatre productions are unique based on the experiences, choices,
and circumstances of those creative team members who are responsible for
the artwork itself. This production was no different. As a director, I made two
choices that made this production of Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? unique:
staging the show in the round and casting two real-life married couples in the
roles of George and Martha and Honey and Nick.
Directing In the Round
The staging of a theatrical performance is arguably the most essential
aesthetic component of any production. The most appealing aspect of black
box theaters is that directors can reconfigure them for different productions,
allowing for productions that might implement any one of the three primary
staging options: proscenium, thrust, and in-the-round.
After spending time with Albees text, I determined that, in the small
Lake Dillon Theater, staging in the round was the best option for three
reasons. First, it allows for blocking choices that enhance the complex
relations between the characters. Throughout the text, the characters waver
between allies and enemies. The characters struggle to gain and maintain
dominance over each other; they battle for control, and each experience
9


times of success and failure. A stage in the round allows for characters to
move freely and more naturally rather than being confined to the strict rule of
cheating out, an important convention when acting on a proscenium stage.
Second, to stage Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in the round is to set
up a constant metaphorical chess game and boxing match. While reading
Albees text, I envisioned Martha and George literally playing a game of
chess, each one trying desperately to move their pieces both defensively and
offensively. Using cunning wit, George and Martha infuse the scenes with
hurtful remarks to each other in front of their guests. At times, the two
physically fight, which, in the round, appears like a physical match. Further,
the two use their guests Honey and Nick as tools to harm each other. In the
round, the set becomes a chess match, with the two players moving their
pawns of choice to ultimately achieve check mate.
Of George Keathleys 1970 in-the-round production of this play, the
Chicago Tribune claimed, the living room of George and Martha has now
become a cockpit, or a boxing ring (Bottoms, 125-7). In this staging
choice, the characters are not only opponents in a game, but also spectators
to a game. A set in the round enclosed the theater space and made the
setting of the living room even more confined, which fueled the hotbed of
emotions and action.
10


Also, staging this play in the round forces the audience to become
involved in the action rather than experience the production as complacent
observers. Audience members not only watch the play, but, like Honey,
become voyeurs to the characters. Further, some audience members
witness the silent nuances as one character faces them and truthfully
expresses his/her emotions while hiding them from other characters. Finally
audience members noted the reactions of other audience members sitting
opposite from them in the space, which allowed for a voyeuristic audience to
engage more immediately with the play. This form of audience inclusion
draws audience members into the production and allows them to experience
not only this production, but, within the confines of the seating, a unique
performance depending on the location of each seat in the house.
Casting
My premium choices for the four roles happened to be two sets of
married couples. While some directors might shy away from casting real life
married couples in the daunting and violent roles of George and Martha and
Nick and Honey, I found the possibility exciting and unique. After discussing
my casting choices with all four actors, I felt that their real life relationships
would not hinder their portrayals of Albees characters.
11


As both a director and actor, I believe that real life experiences neither
hinder nor enhance a performance. To me, an actor playing the title role in
Shakespeares Macbeth need not be a murderer, nor the actor playing Prior
in Tony Kushners Angels in America need be an HIV-positive homosexual.
Likewise, I do not believe that the characters portraying George and Martha
and Nick and Honey need be married in real life. But its happenstance
created a unique environment for how the actors immediately interacted
physically and connected emotionally on stage.
The performers real life circumstances of being married to one
another created interesting dynamics within the performance itself. Most
notably, when Martha and Nick shared sexual encounters both onstage and
offstage, and while George and Honey listened to their spouses sounds of
lovemaking, the notion of adultery became much more palpable. Albees
recurring ideal within the play of truth and illusion became more complex for
me as both a director and audience member as not only the characters Nick,
Honeys spouse, and Martha, Georges spouse, groped one another, but
simultaneously as actors Matt Renoux, Kellys spouse, and Kelly
Ketzenbarger, Garys spouse, groped one another.
Trained, insightful, and talented, the four actors stood individually as
strong performers of these challenging roles. Likewise, they conveyed
intense, consistent and complex marriages on stage.
12


CHAPTER 3
DEFINING THE GENRE
Directing the plays overall aesthetic qualities and making choices that
impacted and voiced my interpretation of Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
helped to define my understanding of the text. But defining the plays genre
grounded the play in both convention and mood. Catherine Wiley noted that
...Virginia Woolf? is a modern classic. People dont go to see the show for
plot; they go to see the version (Wiley). This raises the question, How will
the play be produced? To answer that question is to define the genre.
While classified by its publisher as a drama, Whos Afraid of Virginia
Woolf? maintains characteristics in its setting, mood, and format that define it
as a mixed form of comedy and tragedy. As director, I chose not to consider
the third major type of drama, melodrama, as a possibility because of Albees
setting, mood and format. Therefore the question became, To what extent
is this play dramatic and to what extend is this play comic?
Aristotle argues, The difference between comedy and tragedy is that
the former aims to represent people as worse, and the latter as better, than
they are (Aristotle 48). Albees play strips down the illusions of how Martha
and George seem and results in revealing their true identities and
relationship. But Albee fails to put overt moral values on his leading pair as
either ultimately good or bad. Rather, Albees characters are complex
13


individuals with both admirable and despicable traits. According to Aristotle
then, George and Martha are both tragic and comic.
Further, Aeschylus defines tragedy as drama that portrays humans as
they ought to be and comedy as drama that portrays humans as they are
(Wiley). By the end of his play, Albee reduces George and Martha from their
illusory states and leaves them coping with the realities of their true selves.
Using this definition, Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is ultimately comic.
Comedies typically bring amusement or pleasure to audience
members through humor. At times, Albees play is violently humorous, witty
and clever. But the final moments of Whos Afraid of Virginia Woo//? fail to
invoke happiness. Rather, Albee places George and Martha in a state of
complete brokenness, and both undergo a self-inflicted exorcism that causes
them to reevaluate themselves as they truly exist. While the plays finale
brings sadness and offers the question, Will George and Martha be all
right? the fact remains that neither can return to the false situation in which
they had previously existed. The two are faced with their true reality. For
this reason, the play to me is ultimately comic.
Aristotle and Aeschyluss definitions provide a basic rubric for
determining the plays genre. The text blends laughable dialogue and
situations with the plots violence and despair. Interpreting Whos Afraid of
14


Virginia Woolf? as darkly comic allowed for a fresh envisioning of the
separate acts, characters, and relationships.
The Acts
Envisioning Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as a dark comedy
requires an interpretation of each separate act. Entitled Fun and Games,
the first act introduces the characters and, by its title, defines the mood of the
act and how the actors should play the roles. To understand the first act as
fun and games is to set a deceptively light tone at the onset of the play.
This decision seemed ultimately most important to the play itself in order to
juxtapose the plays finale, which is characterized by its devastating
conclusion as highly dramatic.
Albees first act includes conflict between George and Martha, both in
private and in front of their guests. A false interpretation might suggest that
the two fight and bicker with underlying malice and ill contempt. But to
understand the text comically is to appreciate that George and Martha enjoy
self-deprecating banter and often use it as a form of entertainment for each
other and their guests. Therefore, what appears in the text as argumentation
and disrespect actually plays better when interpreted as fun and games.
First, the actors portray the characters as multi-faceted, complex individuals
rather than one-sided stereotypes. Second, the result is humor, which allows
15


the audience to feel comfortable as spectators and participants. Also, when
interpreted in this manner, the overall production maintains the ability to
juxtapose itself in the more dramatic, quite serious moments in the second
and third acts. And finally, and possibly the most important reason of all,
playing the first act as a comedy allows for the audience to like and care
about the characters. When the audience laughs with George and Martha,
they connect with them as individuals and as a couple. Likewise, after the
audience has entrusted and bonded with the characters, they then more
easily experience the humiliation, anger, and devastation of them as well.
Entitled Walpurgisnacht, the second act introduces the darkly comic
and even dangerous aspects of both George and Martha. Meaning witches
Sabbath, Act II reveals the uniqueness of this particular early morning, an
extraordinary time when the four characters engage in drinking, dancing,
singing, and even sexual behavior. The play begins to turn dark in the
characters viciousness towards one another, their cruelty and desperation to
destroy. But understanding the play as a dark comedy allows for the
characters to keep their senses of wit and humor about them. Further, the
characters remain in control of the situations themselves. They, as their own
self-made witches, have the powers to create and destroy.
The final act, The Exorcism, brings to surface the death of George
and Marthas son. As George recites Latin incantations, he spiritually brings
16


forth his son and sacrifices him for the sake of his and Marthas marriage.
While Act III has moments of wit and humor, the audience often found
watching the majority of the final act difficult, much more tragic in nature than
comic. Georges vicious attack on Martha dazes the guests and leaves both
Martha and George in a state of despair. But understanding the play as
comic forces those involved to accept the truth of their situations,
relationships, and selves.
The Characters
Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is, simply noted, funny. Albees
dialogue is filled with humorous banter, quick retorts, and intelligent quips.
Further, the staged absurd situations themselves often invoke laughter from
the audience. But the comic master of the four characters is George.
Georges weapon of choice for his emotional battles with Martha and Nick is
wit. Humorous and clever, George masters language and transforms it to
humiliate and devastate his counterparts. Gary Ketzenbarger mastered
Georges darkly comic delivery while underplaying the jokes as comedy. I
guided Gary to a subtlety that, much to our surprise, left most audiences
laughing openly and honestly. Funny but not clownish, George often
provides opportunities for the audience to laugh, breaking the tension from
17


the serious subject matter at hand. For example, in the second act, Martha
and Nick begin kissing in the presence of George.
MARTHA Im entertaining. Im entertaining one of the guests. Im
necking with one of the guests.
GEORGE (Seemingly relaxed and preoccupied, never looking) Oh
thats nice. Which one?
MARTHA Oh, by God youre funny.
Likewise, Martha, often brash and bawdy, counters her partner with a
fierce wit. Albees repetitious inclusion of Marthas dialogue of Ha Ha
throughout the text creates a boisterous Martha laughing truthfully at times,
mockingly at others, and still, at times to hide her pain. Kelly Ketzenbargers
infectious laugh as Martha established from the onset that Martha is an
individual who strives for fun and games, even during her moments of
despair. For example, during her devastating soliloquy in Act III, Martha
recounts her fears of abandonment, but finishes her devastating speech with
humor.
MARTHA We both cry all the time, and then, what we do, we cry,
and we take our tears, and we put 'em in the ice box, in
the goddamn ice trays (Begins to laugh) until theyre all
frozen (Laughs even more) and then...we put them...in
our...drinks. {More laughter, which is something else,
too.)
Nick and Honey, while not as funny as their hosts, quickly adapt to the
rules of the early morning hours. They each mock George and Martha at
18


various moments during the play. For example, they both laugh at Georges
attempts to prevent Martha from humiliating him in Act II.
GEORGE I will not be made mock of!
NICK He will not be made mock of, for Christs sake. (Laughs)
(HONEY joins in the laughter)
Furthermore, Nick often attempts witty comments or puns, most
notably repeating lines that George has first introduced. For example, in the
first act, after Nick denies that he is in the math department, George states,
Martha is seldom mistaken...maybe you should be in the Math Department,
or something. Later in the same act, Martha admits her mistake and
suggestively tells Nick that he is right at the meat of things, baby.
Recognizing her sexual advancement, Nick turns Georges previous words to
his advantage.
HONEY They thought you were in the Math Department.
NICK Well, maybe I ought to be.
This ironic repeating of Georges lines is clever. Nicks comment often
resulted in laughter from the audience and certainly displayed his sense of
wit.
Likewise, Kelly Renoux Honeys inebriation, while pathetic, is comic
the way it reveals an individuals lack of control when drunk in a social
situation. Roudane argues, Honey is on one hand a comedic airhead who
19


provides much humor (Roudane 40). Her timing often relaxed the tension
between George and Marthas arguments.
The characters establish the rules of the games in the first act,
informing each other and audience members about what topics the
characters allow each other to tease or even slander and which subjects are
taboo for discussion. During the first act, George and Martha find humor in
their mutual slander. Their relationship rests on wit and humor, even at the
expense of each others dignity. For example, in Act I, the two verbally spar
before their guests arrive.
MARTHA Youre such a...such a simp! You dont even have
the...the what?
GEORGE ...guts...
MARTHA PHRASEMAKER! (Pause...then they both laugh)
Further along in the same scene, the two continue.
MARTHA (Glumly) Well...youre going bald.
GEORGE So are you. (Pause...they both laugh)
But as the play progresses, the characters find less humor and more
resentment in their exchanged comments, insults, and accusations. By the
plays eventual conclusion, the two have emotionally destroyed each other
through their mutual battery and abuse. They make, break, and change the
rules of their games as the play progresses.
20


Ultimately, Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a dark comedy full of wit
and humor balanced with moments of despair and sorrow. At the plays
conclusion, all the characters are forced to examine their true selves and
relationships.
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CHAPTER 4
DEFINING THE SUBJECT, PLOT AND THEME
Bottoms argues that the play is ultimately about the corruption of
American values and the philosophical reflection on the nature of illusion
(Bottoms, 9). Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? examines the decay of
American morality and the death of the 1950s illusory notion of the American
Dream. Its plot explores how Albee defines and showcases George, Martha,
Nick and Honey, their choices, and their actions. To me, Albee conveys the
theme as the implications of how individuals in pursuit of the American
Dream make choices that lead to failure rather than success. In the era of
social change from the 1950s to 1970s, the changes in the American system
of morality brought forth American disillusionment and dissatisfaction in
personal wealth and ability.
Subject
Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? delves into many different ideas and
arguments. To clearly define a production, the director must discern the
plays main subject and focus on exploring it to its fullest. Roudane provides
an understanding of the plays social historical context:
America was becoming more aware of its faults no minor point for a
country which saw itself and its supposed perfections as some kind of
proof of its lack of imperfection but still seemed energized by a naive
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ebullience and unwavering faith in the myth of the American Dream.
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow surely loomed just beyond
the horizon, many Americans felt, even as Albee lamented in 1960
that too many people in America had substituted artificial for real
values in our society, and insisted that his theatre was a stand
against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is
peachy-keen (Roudane 43).
In 1962, Albees subject matter recognizably critiqued the societal changes
and cultural cancers that threatened the 1950s American notion of morality
and commented on a country that, for Albee, was in moral decline
(Roudane 42).
Because of its significant historical social and political context, the play
works best when set in its original date of 1962. In a present setting, Martha
and George would have long since divorced, and Nick would have been less
likely to allow parental and other existing external factors to so strongly
influence his decision to marry Honey. The eras sexual and social
confusion, or moral decline as Albee understands it, characterizes the
chaos of the plays three acts, and the characters lack of control suggests
the social order of the human need to evolve.
Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a play about a historically American
phenomenon set in a specific time and location. Building upon its uniquely
historic American subject, I determined that Albee most clearly depicts his
subject through his plays complex relationships. While relationships is too
broad to be a subject, Albees relationships are the very tools he uses to
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critique American society. Albee himself quotes, The play was built around
the destructive forces of various falsities in relationships, the self-deceptions
(Gussow, 153). Albees relationships, the illusions that define them and the
melting of those illusions critique his depiction of the American moral
structure.
To me, George and Marthas relationship is as much defined as
loving, dependant, and encouraging as it is vengeful, resentful, and hateful.
Nick and Honeys marriage maintains as much contempt and sterility as it
does companionship and duty. Further, the relationships between George
and Nick and Martha and Nick are uniquely different based in ideas of
gender, sex, intellect, and emotion. Finally, Honeys interactions with George
and Martha are equally important to the plays subject. Her individual
connections to the houseguests perpetuate the action of the story as much
as how Martha and George respond to one another.
The title itself offers additional insight into how the play is interested in
relationships. Albee sheds light on the titles significance. They asked me
what the title meant, the title, and I said, Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
means whos afraid of the big bad wolf means whos afraid of life without
illusions (Bottoms 12). Albees intention is to break down the illusions that
the characters have created through their relationships. The plays final
24


moment reveals the fear of life without illusions; George and Martha fear life
and their marriage without their son.
GEORGE Whos afraid of Virginia Woolf...
MARTHA I...am...George...!...am...(GEORGE nods, slowly)
(Silence; tableau)
BLACKOUT
To me, as the director, I believed additionally that the title references
the deconstruction prevalent in the fiction and prose of Virginia Woolf. Just
as Woolf deconstructed notions of gender and society, Albees play voids the
characters of the games and illusions they have created. Through my
understanding, the final words of the play become no longer just about the
son, but also about the deconstruction of George and Marthas relationship,
the ridding of their illusions, and, further implicated and staged in my
production, the journey to rebuild and understand themselves anew.
Plot
Albee defines and showcases George, Martha, Nick and Honey, their
choices, and their actions with precision. Albees six characters of George,
Martha, Nick, Honey, Marthas father and Martha and Georges son serve as
the mechanisms that allow for the examination of American morality. Their
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actions, and, at times more importantly, reactions and choices fuel the
games that allow for the revealing of truths.
Characters
Providing the actors with my interpretations of the characters gave
them a platform to begin creating their roles. Obviously, each provided their
own insights as to how the roles should be played. As director, I felt it
important to support artistic freedom to explore their roles and have authority
over their performances, but I found ensuring that each character and
performance of each character contributing to the overall performance of the
text and to my single, cohesive vision of the play itself to be more important.
Looking to Albees text and his descriptions through dialogue, I believe
the characters to have been complex and truthful. I wanted to avoid
stereotypes and move beyond any one-sided portrayals. Revealing the
characters as multi-faceted remained important for two major aspects of the
performance: audience interest and sympathy and theatrical juxtaposition.
First, unlike melodrama, the characters in Whos Afraid of Virginia
Woolf? are complex, revealing virtue and vice within their characters as
people. Their various traits allow the audience to connect with them at the
onset of the play. To allow all the characters to be funny, passionate, and
thirsty for meaning in life is to give them the opportunity to be not only
26


accepted, but enjoyed by the audience. Likewise, when they reveal their
viciousness, anger, and pain, the audience, already connected to the
characters, takes the plays journey with the characters. Finding the
complex, yet truthful essence of each character challenged the actors
throughout the entire process, but the actors executed their craft with dignity
and beauty.
Secondly, showing the characters as multi-faceted allowed for a more
dramatic production. Encouraging the actors to more or less fight for the
entire three hour production would have built a production void of varying
sentiment, meter, and emotional response. Instead, insisting that the
characters engage in laugher and express joy and love allowed for a
theatrical juxtaposition during the moments of despair and destruction.
Ultimately, the production was an interesting one, that left the audience
feeling more for the characters onstage than just contempt or disdain and
questioning the purpose of the actions and choices rather than just the
purpose of the play.
George. The bartender for those on stage, George brilliantly
masterminds the evening and the others choices. In the final game of
Bringing up Baby, George declares, IM RUNNING THIS SHOW! During
the games, his weapon of choice is wit. George, of all the plays characters,
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is the most shrewdly aware of how to do things with words (Bottoms 7). His
strong understanding of language provides him the tools necessary to
reverse conversations, providing puns and word play to confuse or out think
his opponents. His words are clever and biting, often referring to Martha,
Nick, and Honeys vices or placing a value on them as people, yet never
overtly calling them names. His voiced allusions and choices of imagery are
often as much for his own amusement as they are for the benefit of those
listening. His love affair with language and intellect guides his battles.
George easily maintains control over Nick and Honey, but struggles to
cage Martha. Her ability to adapt and rewrite rules throughout the course of
the play forces George to strategize as far in advance as possible. Fully
aware of his surroundings, George, who only drinks two alcoholic beverages
throughout the entire course of the play, remains fully sober and sharply
alert. His emotional outbursts are short, yet honest. While never forgetting
previous battles, George wages forward to the plays ultimate war.
While George is clever, witty, controlling and controlled, the most
important component of his complex personality is his emotional vulnerability.
The most effective portrayals of George are arguably those which most
clearly demonstrate the characters underlying emotional vulnerability
(Bottoms 143). His emotional outbursts are short, yet honest. Although
George attempts to hide his failures as a son, scholar, and husband, Martha
28


reveals her husbands past secrets, resulting in Georges outbursts of anger,
shame, and regret.
For example, at the end of the first act, Martha explains to Honey and
Nick that her father wanted to groom an heir apparent, a young professor to
take over the university presidency after his retirement. But George failed to
live up to this standard due to his lack of ability and ambition. Martha
explains her disappointment in her husband to her guests, calling George
and failure.
GEORGE Stop it, Martha.
MARTHA The hell I will! You see, George didnt have
much...push...he wasnt particularly...aggressive. In
fact he was sort of a...a FLOP! A great...big...fat...
FLOP!
GEORGE I said stop, Martha.
Embarrassed and shameful, George sits quietly on the window seat, licking
his wounds like a dog which Martha has just kicked (fig. 4.1). His outbursts
and emotional vulnerability allows for the audience to see that he is truly
human, able to bleed. This complexity in George underlines his entire
performance and growth as a character in the play.
Directing Gary Ketzenbarger in the role of George proved challenging
in regards to my interpretation of the characters physical and vocal
suppression. As a personality, Ketzenbarger is boisterous and outgoing, and
29


Fig. 4.1. Georges Emotional Vulner-
ability. In Act I, Martha explains that
George is a failure as a professor; he
never reached her fathers expectations.
He begs, I said stop, Martha.
as a classically trained actor and director, has performed and taught the
physical, sweeping movements associated with mask work. Furthermore, as
a tai chi instructor and practitioner, Ketzenbargers natural instinct is to
incorporate body language into his everyday communication. As an actor, he
typically uses sweeping gestures, an overpowering voice, and accentuated
facial expressions that result in a command of the stage.
30


Unlike the actor portraying him, George is reserved both physically
and vocally. Like a snake, he is unassuming until his strike makes all
involved aware of his presence. When coaching Ketzenbarger in this role,
he told me, Josh, I dont know how not to use my body when I am acting.
I responded, Just stand there. Put your hands in your pockets, dont
gesticulate with your shoulders, and stare a hole so deep into Martha that
you will convey your language without the need to move a muscle.
Georges bog-like behavior during Act I juxtaposes his energetic
attacks in Acts II and III. The vocal and physical transformation that George
undergoes during the course of the play is not only textually inherent to
Albees script, but necessary to counter Marthas boisterous behavior and
body language. After weeks of rehearsal, Ketzenbargers physical and vocal
performance, underwritten by his intense veracity, was nothing less than
mesmerizing.
Martha. As Albee himself observes, Marthas always intuitive and
instinctual (Bottoms, 143). Full of passion, Martha incites the action of this
story, inviting the guests for dinner, disclosing the secret about the child, and
pushing George to the ultimate sacrificial ending. During the games,
Marthas weapons are her sexuality, demanding personality, braying voice,
and intellect. Martha is subtly smart, conniving as she manipulates Nick and
31


Honey. While Albee pens Martha as loud and brash, he also creates her as
wryly smart, the only person capable of matching Georges intelligence. Her
vivacity makes her the life of the party. Martha rarely goes without a dry gin
in her hand. She triumphantly announces at the onset of Act I, Look,
Sweetheart, I can drink you under any goddamn table you want...so dont
you worry about me (Act I).
Martha is at heart a masculine personality. Not to argue that she
gesticulates or moves like a man, rather Marthas forthcoming language,
vulgarity, and communication styles, verbal and non-verbal, are masculine in
subject matter and style. George references her upfront language in the first
act. Martha, your obscenity is more than... (Act I).
Furthermore, in a traditionally masculine way, Marthas sexuality is
blatant. Her flirtatious interactions with Nick are more overt than suggestive.
In Act I, after Nick reenters from the restroom, Martha stares at his lap and
declares, You stay right where you are...you stay right at the...meatof
things. Marthas pun on the word meat is socially un-female during her
era.
In the second act, Martha seduces Nick, using him as a weapon to
hurt and humiliate George. In the ultimate game of Hump the Hostess,
Martha commands Nick to fetch her a cigarette, although in our production,
32


due to the small space and poor ventilation, I omitted the reference to a
cigarette and changed her request to another drink from the bar (fig. 4.2).
Fig. 4.2. Marthas Masculine Sexuality. Overtly sex-
ual with her body language, Martha commands Nick
in the second act, Hand me (my drink)...lover.
From the sofa, Martha grinds her pelvis in a suggestively sexual manner.
Ignoring the societal rules of female behavior in mixed company, Martha
sprawls herself across the sofa while conversing with the slightly
embarrassed Nick.
Marthas disregard for the moral codes of conduct for each gender
supports the plays subject of moral decay. But while she engages in crude
behavior and language, Martha has moments of genuine happiness, pride,
and vulnerability. Most clear when describing the childhood of her son,
33


Marthas love and kindness shows the audience how complex a character
she is. Remembering her son, she recounts, ...a hand out for each of us for
what ever could offer by way of support, affection, teaching, even love (Act
III).
In a private moment on stage, Martha reveals her vulnerability as a
rejected and emotionally abandoned wife and daughter. At the onset of Act
III, Martha delivers a soliloquy that bares her fear of being alone (fig. 4.3).
Fig. 4.3. Marthas Private Emotional
Distress. In Act III, Martha painfully ad-
dresses the emotional abandonment
she has received from both her father
and George. She confesses, I cry all
the time.
34


MARTHA ...I cry all the time too, Daddy. I cry alllll the time; but deep
inside, so no one can see me. I cry all the time. And Georgie
cries all the time, too....We both cry all the time, and then, what
we do, we cry, and we take our tears, and put 'em in the ice
box, in the goddamn ice trays until theyre all frozen and
then...we put them...in our...drinks....I got windshield wipers
on my eyes, because I married you...baby!
Marthas rejections from her husband and father cause her despair, which
she attempts to ignore, or in Albees words for her, swallow like ice cubes.
Directing Kelly Ketzenbarger in the role of Martha remained a steady
task. As I have directed her in two other plays, I feel that I know
Ketzenbargers acting style and what she requires from a director.
Ketzenbarger is intuitive in her approach to performing a role. Like her
husband, Ketzenbarger as a personality is unlike Martha in many ways. A
shy introvert, Ketzenbarger hardly drinks socially. She rarely demands the
attention of a room she has entered and would rather avoid conflict rather
than create it. But her acting skills allowed her to transform from her true self
into the blazing, demanding Martha. Her performance also showcased levels
of humor, intellect, and vulnerability that encouraged the audience to
maintain a level of empathy for Martha throughout her performance, a task
rarely achieved when playing this role. Ketzenbarger expertly achieved my
vision of Martha as abrasive and abusive, yet vulnerable and lonely.
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Nick. Unexpectedly thrown into Martha and Georges relationship,
Nick serves as a force that at times willingly and at other times unknowingly
fuels the action of the play. An ambitious and handsome young biology
professor, Nicks primary reason for staying at George and Marthas home
and enduring their cruelty is to advance his career through Martha and her
father. Confident of his abilities and future, Nick argues in the third act that
he is in fact superior to his peers.
MARTHA Relax; sink into it; youre no better than anyone else.
NICK I think I am.
A former intercollegiate state middleweight champion boxer and football
player, the competitive Nick accepts Georges metaphorical duels and
unsuccessfully attempts to outsmart him. After George humiliates Nick and
Honey in Act II during the game of Get the Guests, Nick threatens George.
NICK Ill show you something come to life you wish you hadnt
set up.
GEORGE Go clean up the mess.
NICK You just wait, mister.
While Nick recognizes George as a threat to his career and personal
character, he allows George to coax from him secrets about his and Honeys
marriage. Subsequently, George uses their private historical information
against them, both as a couple and as individuals. But Nick seems too
36


inebriated, too vulnerable, and too careless to recognize Georges intentions.
Nick willingly, almost yearningly, describes his passionless marriage to
George, confiding that his wife came from a wealthy background (fig. 4.4).
Fig. 4.4. Nicks Confession. In Act II,
Nick naively confides in George about
he and Honeys personal history. Nick
recounts, And so, my wifes got some
money."
Directing Matt Renoux in the role of Nick was mostly unproblematic
and straightforward. His general personality, good looks, and natural charm
helped to establish the superficial qualities of the character. The two
challenges appeared when discerning why Nick refuses to leave George and
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Marthas abuse and when finding and presenting the inner vices of the
seemingly nice All-American guy.
To determine why Nick endures the horrors of the plays action is to
understand more deeply Nicks character. First, Renoux believed that Nick
does not leave the house because of wanting to advance his career. To
Renoux, whenever an opportunity appeared to benefit his career, Nick
diligently waited to make an appropriate move. The opportunity to impress
the presidents daughter leaves Nick with no alternative but to undertake
Georges berating. But further, I believed that Nick felt a challenge from the
aging professor. Unable to ignore Georges blatant attacks on his and
Honeys character and marriage, Nick remains with George and Martha to
the end of the plays action in order to redeem his dignity and self worth.
While he never wins any of the nights multiple games, Nick attempts to
overcome George and eventually tries to protect Martha. Thirdly, as
Honeys husband, he waits for his sick wife to emerge from the bathroom.
Unable to leave his wife in Act III, Nick must endure the taunting and name-
calling from George and Martha until his wife is well enough to leave the
bathroom and go home.
Nicks superficial good guy persona disappears as the play
progresses, and his capacity for immorality surfaces. In this production of
Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Matt Renoux expertly and subtly lost his kind
38


fagade in regard to how Nick treated Honey. His patience with her slipped
away as Honey became more inebriated and he became sexually aggressive
with Martha. At times enraged and spiteful, Nick treated all those involved
with disdain and ultimately left the house with his wife as a gutted shell of the
All American who first entered the scene. As the director, I do not believe
that Renoux portrayal of Nick, arguably the most unclearly written and most
difficult role in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to perform, could have been
more powerful, intuitive, or expertly performed.
Honey. Through the character of Martha, Albee describes Honey as
a mousey little type, without any hips, or anything. Reared by a religious,
yet corrupt family, Honey has learned to adapt to her surrounding and ignore
the painful truth around her. She drinks brandy, a ladys drink of choice, to
avoid conflict and ease the pain of an adulterous and unloving husband. For
example, in Act I when she drunkenly calls her hostess a floozie,
recognizing Marthas attractions and advancements on her husband, she
immediately requests, All right. Id like a nipper of brandy, please.
While Honey may appear mousey, she is as complex as the other
characters on stage. On the surface, she is a supportive, pretty wife eager to
please her husband and help him further his career. She is the symbol of
American morality in the 1950s. The opposite of Martha, she is polite,
39


proper, and content to perform her role as her husbands wife. But as the
play progresses, Honey reveals herself to be a violent voyeur, a liar, and
pathetically weak of character. Scared of having children, the play suggests
that she had at least one abortion or intentionally poisoned herself on alcohol
and miscarried to avoid motherhood.
Honey thrives on the misery of others. As early as Act I, Martha
notices her appetite for others misery and comments, Some people feed on
the calamities of others. During Georges physical attack on Martha in Act
II, Honey, atop the sofa, screams with delight, Violence! Violence!
Violence! In our interpretation, Honey continues to giggle and laugh at the
sight of George and Martha hitting and biting each other. While she drinks
brandy to ease the emotional pain from her own misery and discontent,
witnessing others misery truly gives her temporary relief from her own
demons.
Like Martha, Honey exists in the realm of illusions and fantasies. The
circumstances surrounding her hysterical pregnancy and Nicks sexual
encounter with Martha illustrate how Honey is more interested in fantasy than
reality. In Act II, Honey describes her pregnancy to George and Martha.
HONEY Why, just before we got married, I developed...
appendicitis...or everybody thought it was
appendicitis...but it turned out to be...it was a...(laughs
brief/y)...false alarm.
40


Honey deceives not only others, but also herself, into believing that a
pregnancy could be misconstrued as appendicitis. Her escape into fantasy
allows her to ignore the truth behind her pregnancy. When Honey is alone
with George at the end of Act II, he confronts her about reproduction.
HONEY NOI...I DONT WANT ANY...I DONT WANT
THEM...GO WAY...(Begins to cry) I DONT
WANT...ANY... CHILDREN...I... dont...want
...any...children. Im afraid. I dont want to be hurt....
PLEASE!
Further, Honey ignores the reality of her husbands sexual encounter with
Martha. Unable to escape the sounds of Martha and Nicks rendezvous,
Honey refuses to acknowledge what is happening. She exclaims to a
dumbfounded George, I dont want to know anything.
Honeys vital role is that of witness to the news of the death of George
and Marthas son. Just as Martha uses Nick as a sexual object to surpass
George, George exploits Honey as the spectator of the messengers ill-
fated report. Upon hearing the news of the death, Honey murmurs, Im
going to die. (fig. 4.5)
Furthermore, in Act III, George vividly and triumphantly describes the
boys death to Nick and Martha as Honey pleads for him to stop (fig. 4.6).
HONEY JUST STOP IT!
GEORGE Why, baby? Dont you like it?
HONEY You...cant...do...this!
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Fig. 4.5. The Bad News. In Act II, Honey learns of
George and Marthas sons death. She murmurs,
Im going to be sick...Im going to die.
GEORGE Who says!
HONEY I! Say!
GEORGE Tell us why, baby.
HONEY No!...
HONEY Please...dont.
Ultimately unsuccessful in her pleas, her pathetically weak nature shines
brightly in the final moments of the play. Distraught over the purposeful
murder of George and Marthas son, Honey, like her husband, leaves the
stage a shadow of the calm and collected, supporting wife she was when she
first entered the stage.
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Fig. 4.6. Honeys Plea. In Act III, Honey
listens intently as George relays the
news of his and Marthas sons death.
A witness in the delivery of the news,
Honey fears the words being spoken
aloud. She begs, Please...dont.
Directing Kelly Renoux as Honey was an incredible experience. While
some may argue that since Honey has the least amount of lines and stage
time, the role is the least significant. But Renoux proved that Albees
character of Honey, the other female character in his famous play, is as
compelling and interesting as the other three characters. Her powerfully real
portrayal of Honeys drunkenness was both humorous and pathetic,
supporting the broader subject of moral decay and showcasing her private
43


demons. Renoux insight and performance of the role gave Honey a distinct
presence and purpose on the stage.
Action
The plays action, the occurrences that support Albees overall subject
and theme, fuel the story and provide the happenings that carry the actors
from one state to the next. To me, Albee structures the action of Whos
Afraid of Virginia Woolf? through the mind games and revealing of personal
truths throughout the evening. My analysis of the plays action, framed by
the evenings various games, fueled my understanding of how the plays
humor begins as witty and clever, transforms into biting and sarcastic, and
tumbles into fierce, unforgiving, and masochistic. Further, Albees games
provided the actors with the necessary emotional and intellectual roadmaps
for the three-hour performance marathon.
Albee advances the action of Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with a
series of games. Humiliate the Host, Hump the Hostess, Get the Guests,
Peel the Labels, and Bringing Up Baby are the main games in which the
foursome engage. The games and their often devastating outcomes push
the storys action to its ultimate conclusion. For example, the unveiling of
Georges murderous history and shamed novel surfaces during the second
acts Humiliate the Host. George gathers his intellect and moves forward to
44


Get the Guests, in which he reveals hidden truths about Nick and Honeys
marriage. Each game builds upon one another to the final game, Bringing
Up Baby, which ends in the exorcism of George and Marthas son.
To interpret the game playing as the force that fuels the story is to
understand that in each moment, the items or ideas at stake become more
important. The games or outcomes of the games force the characters to
make life-changing decisions, such as having sex, admitting personal
information, denying historical truths, or murdering an imaginary child.
This productions theatrical ebbs and flows, defined through the
emotional moods alternating in between the plays beats, came from the
action of the play itself. Further, how the characters reacted to the
happenings onstage allowed for the natural progression of the characters
and relationships.
As director, I constantly reminded the cast that each acting choice,
whether it be a glance, touch, line interpretation, or movement, must stem
from previous reactions from the games and their outcomes. For example,
once Martha humiliates George in Act I, George must carry his wound for the
rest of the play. His choice in Act II to beat Martha at her own game must
actually stem from the pain she causes him in the first act. Likewise, once
Martha discloses Nicks impotence to George and then retracts, compelling
George to believe that she and Nick did indeed have sex, Nick must remain
45


in Marthas debt for hiding his failure. Thus Nick chooses to protect Martha
from Georges final ranting. The characters reactions to the games support
the forward motion of the plays action, resulting in the final moments of
despair and loss for all involved.
Theme
Thematically, Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? explores how poor
choices ultimately lead to loss. Albees work, through the element of
storytelling, conveys the idea of a young George and Martha, inspired and in
love, who strive to achieve both personal and professional goals. Yet
because of their own inabilities and poor decision-making, the once hopeful
marriage has aged into a stagnant, perverse codependency held together by
the binds of illusion and disillusionment.
Never reaching the success as head of his history department and
never proving himself worthy to follow Marthas father as president of the
university, George, a bog in his own history department, never fulfilled his
American Dream, thus embodying the American notion of failure.
Furthermore, George and Marthas sterility disallowed them to have a future
beyond their relationship. Therefore, George and Martha represent
thematically the moral decay of American life.
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Furthermore, Nick and Honey, who George deem the wave of the
future, sink into the disillusions of their relationship. George and Martha
relentlessly, yet necessarily, reveal to Nick and Honey the flaws in their
fantasy marriage. Nicks choice to marry a woman he fails to love and
Honeys decision to marry a man who does not love her lead to their
unhappiness and personal decay.
In the end, Albee examines the unhealthy marriages of two couples
who symbolize the state of a changing America.
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CHAPTER 5
DEFINING THE RELATIONSHIPS
George and Martha
Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a love story. George and Martha
share a perverted love that is grounded in codependence and disdain for
each others failures and vices. They are locked into their life together...the
odd but lingering love that Martha and George share (Gussow, 156). Albee
examines this unconventional love as it alters between fierce and calm,
passionate and passionless.
To understand this dark comedy as a love story between Martha and
George is to allow for the textual suggestions of their love to surface during
performance. In our production, Martha and George shared nearly as many
laughs, smiles, and gentle touches as they did arguments, insults, and
physical blows. But the moments of tenderness were subtle, and the
characters contempt for one another often overshadowed their shared love.
At the onset of the play, George and Martha enjoy fun and games,
laughing and joking with each other carelessly, even displaying physical
affection.
MARTHA Well...youre going bald.
GEORGE So are you. {Pause...they both laugh) Hello, honey.
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MARTHA Hello. Cmon over here and give your Mommy a big
sloppy kiss.
As the play progresses, their mutual jokes at each others expense
turn more biting. Upon his arrival, Nick notices that the two are behaving in a
manner that is not socially acceptable. George explains that the two are
simply bantering back and forth, suggesting that they spar in this manner
regularly.
NICK What I mean is...you two... you and your wife... seem to
be having some sort of a...
GEORGE Martha and I are having...nothing. Martha and I are
merely...exercising...thats all...were merely walking
whats left of our wits. Dont pay any attention to it.
Ultimately, Martha is discontent in her marriage. Shown through her
allusion to the Bette Davis film Beyond the Forest, Martha struggles to find
happiness or meaning in her life. Likewise, George is frustrated with the
stagnation of their marriage, which ultimately leads to the murder of their
child. The duos mutual frustration and years of resentment lead to this
unique night of horror.
George and Martha share a language that is bizarre and often
unnatural. They harbor an impressive sadomasochistic language (Cohn,
217). Regularly, they speak as if performing for each other or for their
guests. For example, in Act I, Martha asks George for a cocktail, and the two
converse like children (fig. 5.1).
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Fig. 5.1. Baby Talk. Martha tells her
husband, Just trot over to the barie...
_ _
poo..
MARTHA Oh. Well, then, you just trot over to the barie-poo...
GEORGE ...and make your little mommy a gweat big dwink.
As the play progresses, Martha and Georges fun sparring evolves
into biting insults and accusations. After Humiliate the Host and Get the
Guests, the two raise the intensity of their game (fig. 5.2).
GEORGE Be careful Martha...Ill rip you to pieces.
MARTHA You arent man enough...you havent got the guts.
GEORGE Total war?
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Fig. 5.2. The Ultimate Challenge.
George threatens, Ill rip you to pieces.
MARTHA Total. (Silence. They both seem relieved...elated.)
The notion of a masochistic war of words, sex, and abuse elates the married
couple. They meet each others challenge wholeheartedly; Martha
immediately begins seducing Nick while George soon imagines the death of
their son and invokes Honey as a witness.
The final game of Bringing Up Baby explains how the barren George
and Martha created the illusion of their son to help cope with their personal
emptiness. Martha describes in great detail her pregnancy and how they
reared their son from infant to adult. Yet George, in the ultimate act of
cruelty and sacrifice to save their marriage from its state of stagnation and
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hollowness, kills the child. Martha pleads for George to change his mind, but
he stands firm (fig. 5.3).
Fig. 5.3. Marthas Plea. YOU CANT KILL HIM!
YOU CANT HAVE HIM DIE!
Ultimately, Martha and Georges son, the only symbol of hope and
love in their marriage, dies. At the end, the two must cope with their loss and
move forward with redefining their relationship in new terms. Fearful of the
future, Martha asks George if he had to (destroy their son). George replies,
Yes, but that it will be better.
George and Martha greet the plays finale with a new Sunday morning
sun rising. Roudane argues:
The fragility of their sanity, of their marriage, of their very existences
acknowledged, this couple reunites...George and Martha recognize
their sins of the past and are, perhaps, ready to live their lives without
the illusions that have deformed their world for the past two decades.
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They will, Albee implies, work within their own freshly understood
emotional speed limits to restore order, loyalty, and perhaps even love
to their world. In brief, their language at the plays end, I believe,
privileges a grammar of new beginnings, however uncertain such new
beginnings may prove to be (Roudane, 40-1).
I argue that their marriage will improve, moving forward from the stagnation
from years of illusion and game-playing. But regardless of their future, the
fact that their lives and marriage is forever changed is the ideal. Like the
decay and redefinition of American morality, their marriage has crumbled,
and they are left with redefining it on new, honest terms.
Nick and Honey
While George and Martha exist in a perverse, complicated world
teetering between truth and illusion, Nick and Honey subsist in a deceitful
marriage of lies. While Nick cares for Honey, and serves as her caregiver
during the course of the play, he admits to George in Act II, I married her
because she was pregnant. Nick explains his marriage of convenience;
having grown up together as children, their families and they too always
assumed they would marry. Nick describes their relationship. I wouldnt say
there was any...particular passion between us, even at the beginning...of our
marriage, I mean.
Likewise, Honey fully knows that her husband does not love her, and
she chooses to ignore it. Furthermore, she opts to ignore Nicks infidelities,
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including the one he shares with Martha on the night of the play. She
exclaims to George, I dont want to know anything!
Trapped in a loveless marriage, the two certainly play the part of the
handsome, perfect, married couple. When they first arrive and wait patiently
outside for their hosts to answer the door, Nick and Honey present
themselves as a well-groomed, happily married couple (fig. 5.4). But even
Fig. 5.4. Nick and Honeys Arrival
through the bland social conversation at the onset of the play, the two subtly
reveal that they too have problems. Honey constantly interrupts Nick when
he tries to carry on a conversation with George.
NICK ...When I was teaching in Kansas...
HONEY You wont believe it, but we had to make our way all by
ourselves...isnt that right, dear?
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NICK
Yes, it is...We...
HONEY We had to make our own way...
As the evening progresses, and the two drink more alcohol and
witness George and Marthas games, they become less cordial with one
another. Before the end of Act I, they begin bickering and yelling at one
another. For example, after Humiliate the Host in Act II, George asks
Martha if she wants to play a round of Hump the Hostess. Honey responds
excitedly:
HONEY Hump the hostess!
NICK Just shut up...will you?
HONEY You told me to shut up!
The courtesy that they share for one another at the beginning of Act I quickly
diminishes in the presence of George and Martha.
Most blatantly and disrespectfully, Nick engages in inappropriate
flirting with Martha in the presence of Honey, which progressively erupts into
an aggressive sexual encounter. Not only does Nick not love his wife, but he
disrespects her. Nick does not care for her feelings, but only cares about
appearing to care for her.
By the end of the play, Nick and Honey have delved into the reality of
their own marriage (fig. 5.5). Their unhappiness and disillusions surface
during the experience of watching Martha and George dismantle their
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Fig. 5.5. Nick and Honeys Decay
own relationships illusions. As director, I interpreted Nick and Honeys
marriage to be over. After their experience in Walpurgisnacht, the demons
within their relationship have surfaced and can no longer be ignored. Unlike
Martha and George, Nick and Honey do not and have never truly loved one
another. While George and Martha can rebuild their marriage on the
foundation of their history, Nick and Honey will face the new day with truthful
perspectives and expectations for both their marriage and each other as
individuals.
George and Nick
George and Nicks relationship is heavily grounded in their shared
intellect as professors and their sex as men. Left alone by the women to do
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some men talk, Nick and George discuss, among several issues, the
implications of their respective academic fields of science and history.
Immediately George introduces word and mind games, testing Nick for his
ability to intellectually spar with him. Much to Georges surprise, Nick
defends himself.
NICK All right, what do you want me to say? Do you want me to say its funny, so you can contradict me and say its sad? Or do you want me to say its sad so you can turn around and say no, its funny. You can play that damn little game any way you want, you know!
GEORGE Very good! Very good!
Their areas of study symbolize how they understand their roles in their
shared community and society. Further, George views biology and its
methods as a threat to history. After Martha and Honey return to the living
room, George mocks the historical inevitability of science, its methods, and
implications it places on society. Nick retorts.
GEORGE The most profound indication of a social malignancy...no sense of humor. None of the monoliths could take a joke. Read history. 1 know something about history.
NICK You...you dont know much about science, do you?
GEORGE 1 know something about history. 1 know when Im being threatened.
Just as George views science a threat to history, he more importantly
perceives Nick to be a threat to himself and his marriage.
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In Act II, rather than discussing philosophical matters of science and
history, the men disclose private information about their personal lives and
their relationships with their wives. While George feigns interest in Nicks
stories and even emotionally confesses some of his own demons, George
coaxes Nick to reveal private facts regarding his life and his marriage.
George, by far the most honest of Albees quartet of characters, reveals to
Nick his intentions (fig. 5.6).
Fig. 5.6. Georges Inquisition. George cunningly ca-
joles Nick into sharing intimate facts about his and
Honeys relationship.
GEORGE You realize, of course, that Ive been drawing you out on
this stuff, not because Im interested in your terrible
lifehood, but only because you represent a direct and
pertinent threat to my lifehood, and I want to get the
goods on you.
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Rather than heeding Georges warning, Nick ignores and mocks it, a mistake
that eventually costs him his dignity and pride.
During their conversations, Georges insecurities of age, failure, and
sterility and Nicks obsessions with success and inevitability appear. After
these inabilities and weaknesses surface, George plans how to best use his
inadequacies as well as Nicks traits to beat Martha and force the exorcism.
George orchestrates Marthas seduction of Nick by planting the idea in both
their heads.
Ultimately, George uses Nick as a pawn to win the war against
Martha. George cunningly outwits and outplays Nick in the nights games,
and even refers to Nick and Honey as children at the end of the play; Home
to bed children; its way past your bedtime. The two share an intense and
competitive relationship that fuels the action through their various disputes.
George and Honey
George and Honey share the humiliation of watching their spouses
dance suggestively and the pain of listening to their spouses sexual
encounter. While they fail to console one another, they do experience this
humiliation and find themselves connected through circumstance. As
George detests hypocrisy, he dislikes Honey for her unwillingness to accept
the truth about her husband. Further, he disrespects her for lying about her
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false pregnancy. Likewise, Honey, although in a drunken state, is scared of
George and his perverse mind. She demands in Act UU, Stay away from
me!
The final pages of Act II bring George and Honey together in the living
room as they hear the sounds of lovemaking from the kitchen. Honey covers
her ears with her hands to block the hideous noise and yells, Stop it! This
command geared toward both George for taunting her and Nick and Martha
for making love encourages George to remove her hands from her ears,
forcing her listen (fig. 5.7). Honeys choice not to have children disgusts
George, but also sparks in him the idea to murder his and Marthas son.
Unwillingly, Honey becomes a witness to the delivery of the message that
their son has been killed. George then incorporates Honey into his brilliant
plan to win his war with Martha and distill the ultimate illusion.
George ironically disregards weak people and only finds use in Honey as a
player in the plays final game Bringing Up Baby. Honey, drunk and
disillusioned, calls on George for support after her Act II nightmare, but
quickly changes her mind because of Georges strange change of mood.
While the two share a simple relationship, it is vital in the plays final action of
murdering the son.
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Fig. 5.7. George and Honey. George forces Honey
to listen to the horror of their spouses' sexual en-
counter.
Martha and Nick
To me, Albee most clearly defines in his text the relationship of Martha
and Nick over all the other relationships in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Martha and Nick share an immediate physical, sexual attraction.
Furthermore the two are attracted to each others positions at the university.
Nick, eager to impress the president, saddles up to Martha in order to further
his career. Discontent with George and frustrated by his failures, Martha
flirts with Nick and eventually sexually exploits him to enrage George, who
often displays no emotion towards his wife. After George wages war on
her, Martha seduces the ambitious professor (fig. 5.8).
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Fig. 5.8. Martha and Nick. Pulling on his belt, Mar-
tha seduces Nick, telling him, Make an experiment
on old Martha.
MARTHA Youre a scientist, arent you? Cmon...make an
experiment...make a little experiment. Experiment on
old Martha.
NICK {Giving in) ...not very old...
MARTHA Thats right, not very old, but lots of good experience...
lots of it.
NICK Ill...Ill bet.
Likewise, besides just a sexual attraction to Martha, Nick understands that a
sexual relationship with the university presidents daughter might advance his
career as a new faculty member. And after the humiliating game of Get the
Guests, Nick attempts to enact revenge on George for his attack on him and
Honey. He threatens George, Youre going to regret this. Seeing an
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opportunity to counter Georges attack on his marriage, Nick agrees to the
affair. Well aware that they are using each other for personal gain, Martha
confronts Nick.
MARTHA Youre ambitious, arent you, boy? You didnt chase me
around the kitchen and up the goddamn stairs out of
mad, driven passion, did you now? You were thinking a
little bit about your career, werent you? Well, you can
just houseboy your way up the ladder for a while.
At the opening of The Exorcism, Martha and Nick discuss Nicks
impotence. Martha agrees to hide Nicks failure from George, only to
discover Georges reaction. She pleads, Truth and illusion, George; you
dont know the difference. The shared secret between Martha and Nick bind
them together. Martha allows George to believe she had sex with Nick in
order to win the war and hurt his dignity. Similarly, Nick wants George to
think he bedded Martha, crushing Georges pride. Ultimately, the two join
forces in order to punish George for his violent actions against them.
In the wake of Nicks impotence, Martha realizes that she has an
opportunity to take advantage of and humiliate Nick. George explains the
game and its rules; Look! I know the game. You dont make it in the sack,
youre a houseboy. Martha follows these rules and orders Nick to open the
door and make her husband a drink. Like George, Nick has become a Hop
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to Martha, which places Martha in the dominant position in her and Nicks
relationship (fig. 5.9). In the end, their flirtation leads to an ill-played sexual
Fig. 5.9. Post Coital. Martha taunts
Nick, Oh, but baby, you sure are a
flop. Standing over him and rubbing
his head as if he is a child, Martha fur-
ther mocks his impotence.
encounter, embarrassment, and personal dissatisfaction.
Martha and Honey
Albees textually least defined twosome, Martha and Honey rarely
interact during the text. Assuming the role of woman of the house, Martha
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offers Honey a tour of her home in Act I and makes her coffee after she
vomits in Act II while generally ignoring her presence in the company of Nick
and George. Likewise, Honey politely reacts favorably to Martha only as a
courtesy, but truly disapproves of her attire and calls her a floosie.
As it is the least written relationship, I as director took liberty with the
interpretation. As Martha is a sexual being, I felt it only appropriate that she
flirted not only with Nick and George, but Honey as well. Martha often
smiles, laughs, and touches Honey in outgoing and overly friendly methods.
For example, as Martha enjoys retelling Georges encounter with his father-
in-law concerning the publishing of his novel, Martha crosses to Honey and
puts an arm around her as they laugh at the pitiful George (fig. 5.10).
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While Honey may not like or respect Martha, her drunkenness and self-
absorption shift her attention from visibly showing any disdain to the hostess.
And while Martha may think of Honey as a mousey little type with no hips or
anything, Honey presents no threat to Martha, so Martha finds no need to
manipulate or harm Honey. To me, their slightly suggestive on-stage
relationship was a more interesting choice to watch in performance. Further,
it supported Marthas outgoing personality and even provided Martha a way
of seducing Nick. Martha imposes her sexuality on anyone within her
vicinity, and, in our production, Honey was no exception.
Relationship Types
The relationships shared between the characters onstage remain
important because of their specific types. For example, George treats Nick,
the junior member of the university staff, as someone who could use a piece
of advice. George flexes his intellectual muscles during a mental game of
chess with Nick. Clearly the most skilled at word and mental games, George
skillfully tells Nick that he can be a mentor to him. Nick refuses the offer,
mocking his manhood and lack of success.
Each of the four on-stage characters confronts the issue of
parenthood. George and Martha reveal facts and stories about their son,
the apple of their three eyes, Martha being a Cyclops, and questions about
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how they parent affect the action of the play. For example, Martha and
George each pervert their counterparts parenting skills and behavior.
Marthas moving speech about how much she loves her son is stained when
George claims, Marthas always coming at the boy. Suggestions of mental
and sexual abuse leave the audience questioning how the boy is truly reared
until the final actions reveal the boy as an illusion.
Likewise, Honey and Nick discuss their marriage in terms of being
non-parents. Nick reveals in confidence to George about Honeys
hysterical pregnancy. She went up, and then she went back down.
George then uses this information as a weapon against Nick and Honey in
Act II, which furthers Nicks rage towards George and fuels his decision to
have sex with Martha.
Also, each character reflects on how he/she feels about him/herself.
George, the resident phrase-maker, calls himself inadequate. Martha
refers to herself as loud and vulgar. Honeys helplessness and inabilities
to control her husbands actions lead her to her own death wish. Nick
allows himself to be what (George) wants him to be in order to regain his
dignity in the wake of his humiliation in Get the Guests. The ways in which
the characters view themselves fuel their actions throughout the night.
Likewise, understanding the relational roles of the characters as
husbands and wives created a stronger understanding of the action and
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theme. Recognizing the dominant person in each marriage assisted in
understanding how the characters interact with each other. At first glance, I
felt that quite obviously Martha and Nick are the dominant partners in their
marriages. But after delving into the play, I felt that George controls and
manipulated Martha more subversively. Martha states, I wear the pants in
this family because somebody has to. But while Martha is the aggressor
and more social at parties, George calmly and cunningly plays puppeteer not
only to his wife but also to his guests. Understanding how each unique
relationship worked in the play created for me a better sense of how to
perform and create Albees action.
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CHAPTER 6
THE LANGUAGE OF ALBEE
To understand the meaning behind Albees poetic devices is to better
grasp how he as the playwright uses language in his dark comedy.
Considering how the characters wrestle with words is to more deeply
comprehend their motives and desires. Furthermore, analyzing the language
helped me better grasp how the words should be performed and how the
staging of the language should be.
Albees style is one of patience and deliberateness. In various
degrees, each character in Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? relies on
incessant repetition and dramatic imagery to communicate their arguments
or stories.
Repetition
Albees characters often repeat dialogue, their own or another
characters, throughout the play. The repetition breaks down meanings and
assumptions about language itself. Often, a certain word or group of words
fails to clearly describe or define what a character argues or asks, making it
necessary to keep repeating them until the words can be understood and
even accepted. For example, George and Martha repeat words in the
opening scene as they discuss the arrival of Nick and Honey.
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MARTHA ...Weve got guests.
GEORGE Weve got what?
MARTHA Guests. GUESTS.
GEORGE GUESTS!
MARTHA Yes...guests...people...Weve got guests coming over.
GEORGE When?
MARTHA Now!
GEORGE Good Lord, Martha...do you know what time it... Whos coming over?
MARTHA Whats-their-name.
GEORGE Who?
MARTHA WHATS-THEIR-NAME!
GEORGE Whos whats-their-name?
MARTHA 1 dont know what their name is, George...
The battle of words back and forth questions the meanings of the word
guest and its implications and further strives to identify exactly who they
are. When working the intentions of this scene and others like it, I
encouraged the actors to, as Albee suggests with his use of punctuation and
capitalization of letters, allow each repeating of a word to convey a different
meaning than the prior speaking of that same word or phrase. Therefore, the
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scene did not progress past the repetition until the character inquiring about
the word received the true meaning or intent of the word.
Often the repetition of words leads to a change in not only the
meaning of the words, but also the action of the scene. Characters might
repeat language which shifts the subtext of the scene itself. For example in
Act II, Honey asks the group to dance.
HONEY Why dont we dance? Id love some dancing.
GEORGE (Cheery) All right, love.
HONEY I would! Id love some dancing.
NICK Honey....
HONEY I want some! I want some dancing!
GEORGE All right...For heavens sake...well have some dancing.
HONEY (To MARTHA) Oh, Im so glad...l just love dancing. Dont you?
In our production, Renoux altered the delivery of her words so that they
conveyed different connotations to the characters on stage. To George, her
intention behind the phrase was to convey her desire to dance. To Nick, her
meaning was to threaten that he should allow her to get what she wants. To
Martha, the word dancing takes on other meanings, including dancing,
getting her way, and control over her husband.
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Furthermore, she assumes that Nick will be her dancing partner,
which would restore the proper coupling of the marriages after Martha and
Nick have shared moments of dangerous flirtation. Sadly mistaken, Honey
remarks, Ill dance with anyone...Ill dance by myself (fig. 6.1).
Fig. 6.1. Dancing. Rejected by her husband and
George as a dancing partner, Honey concludes, Ill
dance with anyone...Ill dance by myself.
As the meaning of these repeated lines suggest different connotations, such
as control over her husband or sexuality, the scene begins to take on more
serious undertones. As Martha and Nick dance, Honey and George watch
their undulating spouses from the sofa. And as the dance itself no longer
just represents dancing, the scene foreshadows Nick and Marthas sexual
encounter, which leaves Honey and George in the lurch to witness it. Like in
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this scene, Albees repetition of lines often allowed for us as the practitioners
to incorporate the deeper meanings within the text.
Word Correction
In his play, Albee introduces a motif of word correction between
characters. Often a character misnames objects or uses an incorrect word
choice. As a result, another character corrects his or her err. This
reoccurring action occurs throughout Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? allowing
characters to correct one another again and again, proving their superiority
over one another through language. To be corrected by another character is
to attack on the persons status or control. One example in Act I occurs after
Martha overtly flirts with Nick.
MARTHA You rose to the occasion... good. Real good.
HONEY Well...real well.
NICK Honey...
GEORGE Martha knows...she knows better.
MARTHA 1 know better. 1 been to college like everybody else.
In this instance, Honey corrects Marthas misuse of the word good.
Although drunk, Honey snatches this opportunity to best Martha. To
overcome the error, Martha purposefully misstates, I been.
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As word correction is often an attempt to claim superiority over
another, the characters often reject the correction. Act I provides an
example.
MARTHA Biologys even better. Its less...abstruse.
GEORGE Abstract.
MARTHA ABSTRUSE! As in the sense of recondite. (Sticks her tongue out at GEORGE) Dont you tell me words.
Martha refuses to give George the satisfaction of righting her mistake.
Instead, she alters her meaning of the word and uses it to her advantage to
change the meaning of the phrase.
Further, George uses the rules of the game to correct Nick who
corrects him. Conversing with Nick in Act II, George actually reverses the
correction on Nick.
GEORGE They stand around in the street and hiss at you...like a bunch of geese.
NICK Gangle.
GEORGE Hm?
NICK Gangle...gangle of geese...not bunch...gangle.
GEORGE Well, if youre going to get all cute about it, all ornithological, its gaggle...not gangle, gaggle.
NICK Gaggle? Not gangle?
GEORGE Yes, gaggle.
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NICK
(Crestfallen) Oh.
Understanding the rules of the word games gives the actors guidance on
how to perform the dialogue. George takes pleasure in Nicks failed attempt
at ornithology, flexing his superior language muscle triumphantly. Further,
a disappointed Nick returns to listening to Georges story rejected.
To fully realize the purpose of each word correction allows the actors
to better grasp how Albee creates games for the characters out of the
language itself. Additionally, the actors tackled the powerful subtext attached
to each word correction and the power implications attached.
Imagery
Albees vivid and at times graphic imagery not only creates interesting
and rich dialogue, but grounds the characters and their stories in a realm
where reality is an amalgam of truth and illusion. The characters word
choices describing past events leave the audiences, both the one onstage
often consisting of Nick and Honey and the one offstage, speculating on the
truth of what was said. Albees imagery describing both illusion and reality
converge the two into one, blurring the line between fiction and fantasy.
In Act II, George describes to Nick his experiences as a youth,
attending prep school in New York and drinking illegally with his young
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friends. Upon describing the death of another boys parents, he invokes
graphic pictures.
GEORGE The following summer, on a county road, with his learners permit in his pocket and his father on the front seat to his right, he swerved the car, to avoid a porcupine, and drove straight into a large tree.
NICK (Faintly pleading) No.
GEORGE He was not killed, or course. And in the hospital, when he was conscious and out of danger, and when they told him that his father was dead, he began to laugh, 1 have been told, and his laughter grew and he would not stop, and it was not until after they jammed a needle in his arm, not until after that, until his consciousness slipped away from him, that his laughter subsided...stopped. And when he was recovered from his injuries enough so that he could be moved without damage should he struggle, he was put in an asylum. That was thirty years ago.
NICK Is he...still there?
GEORGE Oh, yes. And Im told that for these thirty years he has... not... uttered...one...sound.
Through this descriptive passage, George enthralls Nick with his violent
story. But as we discover in Act II, the story is autobiographical. Whether
the story was about George and he has not metaphorically uttered a sound in
thirty years, or whether the story truly never happened, the lines between
truth and illusion are unclear. What is clear is that Georges expert use of
figurative language conveys his story, which allows his listeners, both Nick
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and the paying audience, to grapple with the storys meaning as true or
illusory.
Also a master story teller, Martha describes raising her son with such
detail that Honey and Nick have no choice but to accept it as true even as
George offers clues as to the storys falsity.
MARTHA And 1 was young, and he was a healthy child, a red, bawling child, with slippery firm limbs...
GEORGE ...Martha thinks she saw him at the delivery...
MARTHA ...with slippery, firm limbs and a full head of black, fine fine hair which, oh, later, later became blond as the sun, our son....
MARTHA And we raised him...(Laughs, briefly, bitterly) yes, we did; we raised him...
GEORGE With teddy bears and an antique bassinet from Austria... and no nurse.
Together, George and Martha use vivid imagery to weave a story of truth and
illusion. Describing the false birth is an illusion, but stating that Martha
thinks she saw him at the delivery is truth. Raising a child is an illusion, but
not having a nurse is truth.
The story continues, describing their sons childhood and adolescence
and even offers George and Martha opportunities to insult and accuse each
other.
MARTHA Lies? (A son) who would not bring his girl friends to the
house...
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GEORGE ...in shame of his mother...
MARTHA ...of his father! Who writes letters only to me!
GEORGE Oh, so you think! Tome! At my office!
MARTHA Liar!
GEORGE 1 have a stack of them!
MARTHA YOU HAVE NO LETTERS!
GEORGE And you have?
MARTHA He has no letters.
In this continued scene, George and Martha each describe their relationships
with their son, while the essence of truth or illusion alternates literally after
each line. For example, although their son is an illusion, George and Martha
both admit that their house was never filled with girl friends, which is true.
Likewise, Marthas letters from her son are an illusion. But when George
counters he too has letters, which is an illusion, Martha calls him a liar and
declares, You have no letters, which is the truth.
As a result of George and Marthas language, Nick and Honey spiral
into a state of confusion where reality and fiction are bound by no rules.
Furthermore, understanding how Albees language confuses truth and
illusion assisted my direction of the scene in terms of blocking and line
delivery. As the story grows from descriptive and narrative to accusatory and
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confusing, so did the actors performance of the text; their volume, intensity,
pitch and rate increased. Marthas joyful and beautiful recounting of her
sons childhood morphs into an ugly and resentful diatribe on Georges role
as a father.
Like jn this example, recognizing how Albee uses imagery in Whos
Afraid of Virginia Woolf? helped to create a clear understanding of the
characters and relationships and the actors portrayals of them. Further,
Albees figurative language guided how I directed the emotional climaxes of
the scenes, and further, how I directed the boundaries between illusion and
truth that so often waver as characters describe their histories, argue, and
manipulate each other.
Non-verbal Communication
As a playwright, Albee offers intense verbal communication between
the actors through the use of dialogue, monologue, and soliloquy. But
textually, Albee writes immensely about the ongoing non-verbal
communication between the characters. For example, one page of the text
in Act II offers insight to the non-verbal communication on each line of
dialogue.
GEORGE (Affirmatively, but to none of them) I am not drowning.
HONEY (To NICK, tearfully indignant) You told me to shut up.
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NICK
(Impatiently) Im sorry.
HONEY (Between her teeth) No youre not.
NICK (To HONEY, even more impatiently). Im sorry.
GEORGE (Claps his hands together, once, loud) Ive got it!...
MARTHA (Turning away, a little disgusted). Jesus, George.
Such exhaustive concern for the characters non-verbal delivery has two
purposes. First, it provides insight for the actor on how the line should be
read, such as affirmatively and impatiently. But more importantly, it offers
a language that is more powerful than words. Often an action or look
conveys more about a character, a situation, or the subtext than dialogue. In
this example, Georges clapping of hands communicates not only that he
has determined what new game to play, but further his excitement for the
game. Rather than George saying, Okay, I have a game now and I am very
excited about it..., George claps his hands once to show his excited finality
of a decision made. Likewise, Marthas Turning away conveys her
disinterest and attitude of disrespect for Georges idea. Instead of stating,
George, what a stupid idea, Martha shows her distain by turning away from
him.
His most effective use of non-verbal communication occurs in Act III.
GEORGE There was a telegram, Martha.
MARTHA Show it to me! Show me the telegram!
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GEORGE I ate it.
MARTHA What did you just say to me?
GEORGE I...ate...it. (MARTHA stares at him fora long moment,
then spits in his face.) Good for you, Martha.
Verbal language could not communicate the hurt, passion, disgust, and
hatred that spitting in anothers face can. Marthas single act communicates
exactly how she feels and what she thinks. Further, George recognizes the
act as a response to his words. He comments on her choice of
communication, Good for you.
Albees second language of non-verbal communication offers not only
further insight into this characters, but also challenged me and the actors to
ask, Why does Albee want it done that way? In doing so, we made artistic
choices in which non-verbal deliveries to perform and which to enhance with
another action. Further, his notions of non-verbal language within the text
challenged me to further tell this story through movement, action, and
interaction.
For example, when Martha seduces Nick in the second act, Albee
grants her fairly upfront verbal language to convey her desire for sex. As
director, I blocked Martha to pull Nick closer to her by his belt buckle,
bringing his midsection close to her face. The result was an uncomfortable
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moment of realization that their flirtation was no longer a game of suggestion,
but had advanced to an act of sexual aggression.
Another example includes the moment in Act III when George
proclaims with finality that their son is dead.
GEORGE AND I HAVE KILLED HIM!
MARTHA NO!
GEORGE YES!
In this moment, Martha slaps George across the face with a hard
blow. The stinging noise of the slap is followed by a long silence before
Nick begins to understand that the sons life and death was an illusion. As
director, I felt this action, a desperate attempt to overcome Georges cruelty,
is the beat that Martha takes in refusing to accept and accepting the sons
death as final. Not only highly theatrical, Marthas physical response to
Georges words conveyed a deep meaning of loss and desperation to the
audience both onstage and offstage.
As a director, I made decisions about character, blocking, design
elements, and music based on my interpretation of his unique language. By
adhering to Albees language, I feel that the shape of the production was
reflective and correct to the intent of the playwright.
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CHAPTER 7
DIRECTING THE PLAY
A director must understand the playwrights subject, plot, and theme.
A director must also guide the actors to create individual characters and
relationships that support the text of the play. Furthermore, a director must
maintain a clear vision of how his/her production will not only converge with
and adhere to the playwrights text, but also entertain, educate, and/or
enlighten audiences. And while a directors vision is the foundation of each
production, implementing the vision is the responsibility of no one else but
the director.
Presently, this thesis mainly recounts my specific interpretation of
Albees literature and how I worked with the actors to create a synthesis of
both text and personal vision. But other important factors contributed to the
success of this production, including the rehearsal process and timeline, the
implementation of the design elements, and, most notably, the staging of the
production.
Process Timeline
Since the Lake Dillon Theatre play selection committee chose this
production of Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with me as the director in
spring of 2004, I had fourteen months before opening to examine the text
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and envision our production. I began reading about the play, previous
performances, and studying the text itself. I chose not to watch the Mike
Nichols film version staring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Rather, I
dove into the text to decipher my personal interpretation of the characters,
subject, plot, and theme. Immediately chosen to constitute the cast, the four
actors also acquired scripts and began familiarizing themselves with the play
and their specific roles.
Our first cast rehearsal was November 14, 2004. During this meeting,
the cast read their parts aloud for the first time as an ensemble. Following
the reading, I briefly discussed foundational qualities for the characters and
their relationships. Two months later, we met again on January 12, 2005.
Again the cast read the script aloud, this time incorporating character choices
in the line readings. Additionally, we audio recorded the reading so the
actors could use copies of the recording for the purpose of listening to the
script to memorize lines.
We began full rehearsals in February, which began with three
rehearsals of discussion about the play. For purposes of blocking and
discussion, I divided each act into French scenes, meaning I created
interior scenes based on the characters entrances and exits. I then began
blocking rehearsals where I as the director instructed the actors of their
specified movement. After several weeks of blocking, I had the show staged
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and we began working the scenes, meaning I devoted an evening working
the individual French scenes of each act.
As the performance dates drew near, in early April we began stumble
throughs, a term referring to the process of slowing rehearsing each act and
stopping to correct errors in blocking, character choice, line readings, or
interactions or to discuss in depth questions or issues that might arise during
the rehearsal process. At the first of May, we began rehearsing entire acts
straight through without stopping. After rehearsing each act several nights, I
began combining act one with act two and act two with act three in evening
rehearsals to slowly build the actors stamina for the entire performance. On
May 17, exactly ten days before opening night, the actors began running the
entire show without calling for lines, meaning if they forgot a line, they
improvised until they mentally located their place in the text.
On Friday, May 27, the Lake Dillon Theatre production of Whos Afraid
of Virginia Woolf? opened to our first of many sold out houses and garnered
its first of fifteen standing ovations. On June 5 and June 19, we hosted talk
backs, which are opportunities for audience members to stay after the
performances and ask the actors, designers, stage manager, and director
questions regarding any aspect of Albees text, the history of the play, the
rehearsal process or the production itself. On June 12, we scheduled photo
call, the process of taking cast pictures of the play for preservation. After
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fifteen performances, we closed on June 26 and struck the set. In honor of
George, Martha, Nick, and Honey, we toasted the characters with shots of
gin, brandy, or scotch.
I scheduled the rehearsals in the evenings beginning at 6:30 p.m. and
often running well past 10:00 p.m. During the two weeks prior to opening,
rehearsals often continued close to midnight. In order to allow the actors
time to rest and recuperate from such intense material, I chose to never have
more than two consecutive rehearsals. For example, we might rehearse on
Monday and Tuesday and then not have rehearsal on Wednesday night.
Even tech week, which is the last week prior to opening night when all the
technical aspects of the production, including the final set, props, costumes,
and lights, join the actors, we omitted rehearsal for two of the evenings.
Arduous and stressful, the rehearsal process was one of the most
lengthy and difficult of which I have been a part, but the dedicated actors
worked hard to make the process smooth. All involved expressed passion
for their roles in the process, which made the process highly rewarding.
Overseeing the Design Elements
While the performing of Albees text is the most important aspect of
producing the play, the design elements created the atmosphere for the story
to occur. As one of the two designers in the production, I oversaw all the
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design elements to ensure that they not only agreed with my interpretation of
Albees text, but furthered them.
Set Design
Albee is adamant that...the set create as straight an illusion of the
reality as possible:
I dont like sets that make comments, and a naturalistic play should
not have a set that makes comments. I mean theres no such thing as
a naturalistic play, but Virginia Woolf comes fairly close, and I dont
want a fucking symbolic set. I dont want a set to tell me how to react
to the play! The set is the container for the thing contained (Bottoms,
120).
Staged in the round, the set needed to not suggest a living space, but rather
be a living space (fig. 7.1). Christopher Allemans naturalistic set was
underscored by the style of furniture popular in the 1950s. Wood floors,
brown furniture and earth tones created a home that felt lived-in, yet
suggested a lack of growth or life. The only shock of color came from the
area rug which provided the set with a vibrancy that supported the plays
intensity.
Staging the production in the round created an extensive challenge for
Alleman: where to place the furniture. For this dialogue-heavy play,
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Figure 7.1. Set Layout This birds-eye-view of the set for Who's Afraid of Vir-
ginia Woolf? shows the furniture, space and size of the set. For this figure, each
inch equals two feet. The set was sixteen feet by twelve feet. Omitted are the
hanging wind chimes located to the right of the window seat, the hanging lamp
located above the chair and table, and the area floor rug located in the center of
the set. Set design by Christopher Alleman.
I needed at least four places for the characters to sit for discussion with
options for them to face different directions towards the audience. A central
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component of the set, the mobile bar needed to be easily accessible. The
record player should be authentic. Furthermore, I asked for realistic lighting
for the actors to utilize during the production. Alleman suggested a hanging
lamp for an unnatural lighting source, and I requested a window with natural
moonlight pouring onto the set. Alleman presented me with several layout
options, and I selected the one that I thought provided the best opportunities
for blocking the actors and visibility for the audience.
Functional, elegant, and simple, the set for Whos Afraid of Virginia
Woolf? provided the perfect atmosphere for the action of the play. Further,
the small size of the set created a cramped environment for the hotbed of
emotions.
Lighting Design
As this play is realistic, the lighting design reflected only what would
be realistic in a normal living room. At the onset of the play, George and
Martha stumble into the living room and George turns on the lamp located
next to his chair. The lamp was practical, meaning that the actors controlled
its power and that is really came on at their request rather than it being
programmed and operated by a lighting designer. At the flick of the light
bulb, the stage lights rose, providing the light for the play.
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