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Somebody, pinch me

“Live fully. No crutches. Don’t fall back on anything. You, out there, all by yourself. Make something of your life.”
–the fabulous Mr. Edward Albee

Two years ago, I had the “make sure you read this before you die” conversation with my professor and he told me that when he read Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” he was thoroughly upset that he had lived as long as he had having never read it. So I read it and I smiled the entire time, just knowing that this was going to be the first of many times I would visit this play. And it was.

Immediately after reading it, I found the film (adapted in 1966, four years after the play debuted), on Netflix and saw one of the leads, Martha, was played by Elizabeth Taylor. “Hell yes,” I believe was my reaction. The glory of it all is that she acts opposite her fifth husband Richard Burton. While they were still married during the filming, it is rumored that they bickered quite a bit offset, and on set it is frighteningly believable.

Poster for the original film

It’s not everyone’s taste, but the dialogue, is smart, quick, provocative, insightful and exhausting–only in the best way. Both in the play and the film, there are only four characters talking over the course of a few hours. Fueled by alcohol, exhaustion, expectations and failure, two couples argue their way through three acts of genius.

Martha nails the idea of the entire play in a couple sentences in the second act: “Aw, ’tis the refuge we take when the unreality of the world weighs too heavy on our tiny heads. Relax; sink into it; you’re no better than anyone else.” That part just gets me where I live.

Here’s a clip of the two couples, Nick and Honey with George and Martha, as Martha goes off on one of her inebriated, passionate rants.

Originally, producer Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay, but Taylor and Burton despised it. The film is verbatim from the play except two lines. Thank God. The film was nominated for an Academy Award in every category it was eligible for.

All of Albee’s characters are stuck in whatever social conventions they have subjected themselves to and either by choice or through ignorance, they can’t get out. Some people find his work redundant, but after reading “Zoo Story” and “The American Dream” I still find it relevant and provoking 50 years after it was published. Albee said “I’ll keep writing about the same stuff until people start behaving.” I’m not sure we have.


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