George, Martha, and Me

Warning: No math and slight reference to teaching.  I just wanted to get this off my chest.

My favorite play and minor obsession is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee. A new Broadway production got rave “don’t miss” reviews so I decided to make a flash trip to New York City to see it.  I bought tickets for an evening performance and the matinee the next day.

I am not obviously a professional critic or even a heavy theatergoer.  My response to plays is immediate, visceral and personal.  I know Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf well.  I tried to memorize it.  For years I read it for comfort and to help me sleep.  I saw the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production seven absorbing uplifting times.  I therefore have certain expectations but one expectation is paramount – we must see George and Martha’s love for each other through all the yelling and insulting.  The “George and Martha: sad, sad, sad” monologue and the play ending tableau are crucial and the Broadway production just did not deliver.

The actress Amy Morton chose to play a more muted Martha than usual – a good choice.  She does not enter yelling or vicious.  Unfortunately being relatively quiet is not enough.  The insults she hurls at George, if softly, still need to be distinct.  Ms. Morton makes them seem habitual as they should be but loses the phrasing.  For instance all the “cluck’s” thrown at George in the beginning of the play though they can seem afterthoughts still need a slight preparatory pause.  There were times during the play where it really did seem that George and Martha were “exercising what was left of their wits” – making it up as they went along.  I found these the most satisfying moments of the evening.  But I most wanted to hear the poignancy in Martha’s voice in those two scenes – the love and truth and pain.  Edward Albee wrote in long pauses between the few words of the final scene.  Tracy Letts (George) dutifully makes them but the couples exchange didn’t convey the love midst the ruins that I wanted to hear.

A few more words about the Broadway production.  The Nick (Madsion Dirks) and Honey (Carrie Coon) characters where the best that I have seen.  Ms. Coon played Honey as more drunk and dull than I had imagined and Nick had more strength. Surprisingly (I have read in more than one place that Mr. Albee demands that all of the words in his plays be spoken.) the ending of the second act was cut, at least  according to the version I have: Pocket Book, 20th printing, February 1973.  The two characters Honey and Nick serve to complement Martha and George.  Honey is afraid to have children and Martha can’t.  George was ambition-less and Nick is a striver.  All this deepens the impact of the play.  Omitting the information about Honey loses an important connection.

I could go on and on about the play as I know and love it.  I wish I could discuss all this over a beer or more appropriately a bourbon with a fellow aficionado.  This lonely post is the best that I can do.

Speculation:  I am getting along in years.  Maybe I can’t hear higher register sounds.  If so maybe I missed the nuances of Ms. Morton’s inflections and so made an unfair criticism.  I am wondering if I could be sometimes missing the emotional content of my student’s responses in the same way.


About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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