In the relationship between sarcastic and vicious Martha and George, the most convincing and complex argument wins.
And within the first five minutes of the opening act of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” they’re already pushing each other to the brink of insanity. The source of conflict: a dinner party.
But inviting guests over is by no means trivial to this dysfunctional couple, who engage in a cursing match to determine who will merely open the front door.
Generic Theatre Company is producing the two-hour show with a four-person cast. The play, by Edward Albee, illustrates the degradation of a middle-aged couple’s relationship in the 1960s, while the title is a pun that riffs on the popular children’s song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” It’s referenced throughout the play as an ironic description of how immature the characters are.
Dim lighting, ripped book pages and velvet couches were what I first noticed when I walked into the intimate Black Box Theater of the Mount Vernon Campus – it had been transformed into a small living room with strewn books, crumpled paper and a fully stocked bar.
The actors stumbled onto the set, each stomping in aggravation at the other. One dropped her coat while trying to hang it, and the entire cast laughed as the actress made the mistake look intentional.
The chaotic aesthetic reflected the relationship between the married couple: Martha and George are haphazard, messy and constantly at odds, just as their disheveled living room suggests.
After a two-day audition process, director and sophomore Thom Fusco chose four actors to star in the production: freshman Matthew Gilchrist (George), sophomore Cassie Collentine (Martha), junior Ben Lawton (Nick) and freshman Olivia Souza (Honey).
During callbacks, the director and assistant directors had to keep in mind the sexual and intellectual tension among the characters – Fusco said character development and the believability of the plot depended on it. To gauge how the actors would connect with each other, he said he had them all read from more than four scenes.
“[The actors] each have little elements of their character already in them, nothing overpowering, and through their performance they channel those little bits,” Fusco said.
In the play, George and Martha invite another couple, Nick and Honey, over for drinks. As the night goes on, both couples stop trying to keep up pleasantries and their arguments become more violent.
From the dialogue, the audience senses that Martha and George’s relationship takes place in an alternate reality, each making up stories about the other as they engage in a rhetorical power struggle.
In one scene, George pulls out two guns and points them at his guests without warning or reason. After Honey, Martha and Nick scream in terror, George laughs maniacally as flags, rather than bullets, shoot from the guns.
Fusco said the dialogue-heavy content was the most challenging part of executing the play.
“Every word matters, so if an actor forgets one word, it throws them all off,” he said.
Interested in finding out just how awkward a party can be? “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” runs from Nov. 6 to 8.