Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Virginia Woolf" Projects Horrors of Empty Lives

Cleveland Press March 17, 1966

The play is horribly long. Its string of vulgarities become annoying.

But it is one of the most powerful theatrical experiences you are likely to encounter. Playwright Edward Albee has the ability to make you wince at the truth, cringe as his characters struggle against their frustrations.

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is not a pleasant play. It is not entertaining in the usual sense of the word.

It is a nightmare in which lovers claw at each other, determined to outdo the other in hurting.

Central characters are a small-town college professor and his shrewish wife. They go at each other -- shouting, swearing, insulting, humiliating.

THEIR EFFORTS do not abate when another couple shows up at their home. These younger people are the new biology professor and his giggling wife.

Bystanders at first, they become involved by the time the evening is over. Each of the four proves to have a guilty secret and it is part of the fun and games at this party to expose them.

Albee leads his people through an alternating world of truth and illusion. George and Martha, the professor and his wife, play games with the truth, games with a certain set of rules.

GEORGE'S FINAL destruction of his wife, the shattering of her particular treasured illusion, comes not because of her supposed infidelity with their guest -- this apparently is a common occurrence -- but because she broke one of the rules of their game.

Albee juggles his speeches and people for an overlong three and one half hours. Since his characters' underlying problems seem to be those of frustration and sterility there is an unrelieved air of sexuality to all the proceedings. He scatters his profanities like buckshot, often for the sake of shock effect.

But the real shockers are not the use of certain words but the sort of truths that might evolve on an analyst's couch. Albee ought to have more faith in his material.

Jo Ann Finnell is marvelous as the screaming, nasty wife. It is a study in unalloyed bitchery.

WILLIAM PATERSON as the constantly baited unsuccessful history professor, is superb in one of his best characterizations. His skill with comedy evokes more laughter than one suspects is in the part.

Director Kirk Willis has recognized the comedy (horrendous though it is) that is in this play and has made good use of it.

Catherine Heisler and Larry Tarrant both work hard at fleshing out the remaining two characters, neither of which are as fully drawn by Albee as are George and Martha.

There is nothing attractive about any of these characters. They are cynical, mean and morally bankrupt. Albee presents no message, offers no solution and in that respect his play is without point.

But he does offer an honestly disturbing portrait of empty lives.