“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by Edward Albee BOOK REVIEW

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Publication Date: January, 1st 1962

Publisher: Vintage Classics

ISBN: 9780099285694

Genre: Drama

Strong Point: he interaction between the four characters. Some of the dialogues are quite brilliant.  

Weak Point: Somehow I did not connect with the story. Sometimes it felt quite repetitive and absurd.

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Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4.06/5)

Read book blurb here


“I said I was impressed, Martha. I’m beside myself with jealousy. What do you want me to do, throw up?”

“WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?”

I always find very difficult to review a play. Plays are written for theatre, for a live audience, and not to be read alone in a room.

For this reason, I think that I have never fully enjoyed reading a play while I have almost always loved seeing plays in a theatre.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is no exception. The story is powerful (and quite disturbing, to be honest) and Edward Albee writes masterfully. And yet it let me a bit cold.

THE STORY

We find George and Martha at two o’clock at night coming back home from a party hosted by Martha’s father.

George is 46 years old and works in the History department of the University from which Martha’s father is the President. They have been married for 23 years. 

At the party, they have met another couple and they have invited them to their flat for a last drink. And from then on, things escalate and become weirder and weirder.

A HAPPY MARRIAGE?

So George and Martha’s marriage is everything but happy. In fact, it is a very toxic marriage.  

When the other couple arrive, they start having very intense discussions and arguments and we realize that there are a lot of unspoken issues between them.

Furthermore, the other couple, Honey and Nick, seem to be “dragged” by the bad vibe happening between their hosts. 

They also uncover some dark secrets and make us feel that in a not so far away future, they will become a similar version of George and Martha. 

The two couples do not know how to deal with their “significant other”. They do not understand each other and they pour their frustration on his/her partner. They are cruel and cannot be civil, even in the presence of strangers. 

Their lack of communication and understanding is astonishing. And yet, it is quite mundane. We must not forget that marriage is in a way a type of play in which every person involved plays a role, as it happens in any theatrical drama. 

As for the title of the play, it is a joke about a song called “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”. The title of Albee’s play refers to the writer Virginia Woolf. She was well-known for writing in a style called “stream of consciousness” which made her books quite complex and dense. Woolf was eager in trying to explain and understand the minds of their characters, to learn about their thoughts and ideas.

This fact can relate to George’s professional background at University and the truth that for George and Martha it is complicated and hard to understand the ideas and thoughts of the others, and it is always easier to insult and undermine other people.

FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT “WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?”

The play was first performed at the Billy Rose Theatre in New York City, on 13 October 1962.

It must have shocked the people who went to see those first performances, because of its language and the behaviour of the protagonists. Furthermore, let’s not forget that George and Martha share their names with George and Martha Washington, one of America’s Founding Fathers. 

However, for 21st audiences I think it is relatively mild. Although, don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of abuse, verbal as well as physical. But as a 2022 person I am unfortunately not as shocked as someone from the ‘60s would be. But, I must say, the end is quite sick. 

For this reason, and as I said before, I did not connect with the story and I found the book sometimes quite repetitive and boring. Furthermore, I felt very sorry for the two couples. The way they behave to each other was something unbearable and put me in a very bad mood. 


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