Dies Irae - The Wrathful Pleasure Of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?Thursday, February 17, 2011
|Gabrielle Rose, John Wright, Meg Roe|
My guess is that when it comes to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? most people either heard of the play through the movie, saw the movie in a blurring fading past or simply read about the film. I had never seen the play as a play until last night. To refresh my memory of it (to get a focus on a play I had never seen through a film I had seen back in 1968) Rosemary and I saw the Mike Nichols’ 1966 film last Sunday.
Those of us who saw the film when it came out or
shortly after must consider that our views were clouded or affected by the media hoopla surrounding the Joseph L. Mankiewicz 1963 robe and sandal costume blockbuster Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor, Rex Harrison and Richard Burton and the dumping of Eddy Fisher and the divorce in 1964 because of the affair Taylor and Burton had during the filming of Cleopatra. And by the time Rosemary and I saw Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Taylor and Burton where the most famous/infamous couple in Hollywood. Even without Twitter and the internet their fights and goings on were the stuff of legend.
This means that the film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with screenplay by Ernest Lehman is not the play but a variation in which the three acts become one and the setting is threefold, Martha and George’s house, outside the house and car and the third is a dance club. At all times last night I kept that in mind. But my wife forgot and she whispered in my ear, “The dialogue is different!”
The reason for it is that we were seeing the original play as written and we had no comparison except the film.
With the above to make the point that one should not have to compare an original play with a film version of it since it would be unfair to do so I will only add my personal views on the play that I saw and enjoyed last night.
Both Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis won Academy Awards for their roles. To me it signifies that the play is a two woman play in which the men are sort of fluff (not quite)!
Last night I saw a play in which Elizabeth Taylor’s part of Martha was played by Gabrielle Rose and Sandy Dennis’ Honey by Meg Roe. Rose and Roe where as good, for me, as Taylor and Dennis. In fact every time I watched Roe move or, open her already big eyes, I marveled and then as soon as she said anything I laughed. Watching Rose deteriorate until the final act, when she has lipstick blotches on her face and neck, was not pretty. This performance is just about perfect.
Craig Erickson’s role is somewhat diminished from that of George Segal’s simply because you do not see the crucial scene outside with Burton on a swing. The portion of the film is terrific. A living room could not compete. But Erickson’s performance as well as Kevin McNulty’s George were interpretations that I feel were pressed by the John Wright’s direction. I believe Wright made the right choice.
This blogger was wondering how McNulty would compete with Burton. He cannot for the reason that he is not Burton. The film was (in the parlance of modern English) a vehicle for the famous couple. When the film ended I did not feel any sympathy for the shattered Martha and George.
In his role of George, McNulty brings the idea of long suffering spouse who suffers and takes it and plays the game as well as he can. From the beginning I felt sorry for him. “What a bitch she is,” I thought. In the film Martha and George are always equals. Not so last night. That interpretation by Wright is what made for me the play work and satisfy me. I liked George. I did not like the film’s George. I just marveled at the performance, the voice without looking into the details such as the humanity of the role.
In the third act (called Exorcism) George (Kevin McNulty rises very well to it in what is the play’s end game ) recites the Dies Irae in Latin while Martha screams. I could not make up my mind where to listen. I shifted from one voice to the other. It was brutal. It was wonderful – just one more reason why this play is one that beckons watching.
And there is another. Wait for a soon to be performed comedy with Meg Roe. I cannot wait even though the comedy in question might just be a figment of my imagination. But wouldn’t it be grand?