Tuesday, June 12, 2018

27 (2018-2019): Review: EVERYONE'S FINE WITH VIRGINIA WOOLF


“Martha’s Revenge”


Parody plays about TV shows are rather common, examples over Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf, Kate Scelsa’s helter-skelter deconstruction of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Abrons Arts Center.
the past few years having spoofed
such popular series as “Three’s a Crowd,” “Friends,” and “Golden Girls.” Less often seen are full-out takeoffs on important plays. That, however, is what the respected Off-Broadway experimental theatre company, Elevator Repair Service, is now providing with Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf, Kate Scelsa’s helter-skelter deconstruction of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Abrons Arts Center.
Vin Knight, Annie McNamara. Photo: Joan Marcus.
I have decidedly mixed feelings, generally unfavorable, about the effort, some of which is incomprehensible while some is quite funny, if not as thought-provoking as its creators might have intended.
Mike Iveson, Vin Knight, Annie McNamara. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Written specifically for ERS by one of its longtime members, EFWVW takes a satirical, feminist look at Albee’s treatment of the character of Martha in terms of what Scelsa considers Albee’s unfair treatment of her. Scelsa's views are outlined in a chat (online and, edited, in the program) with the play’s director, John Collins.
Vin Knight, April Matthis, Mike Iveson. Photo: Joan Marcus.
In the online version, Collins describes Scelsa's response to Albee’s original as “Celebrating it, blowing it up, surgically ripping it to shreds, and birthing a triumphant new way of seeing those people. . . . It’s an amazing act of critique, of parody, of destruction, and rebirth, exacted on this very famous play. And what’s amazing about it is that, in tearing it down and rebuilding it, it does what the original does even better, even more.” “Martha’s revenge,” Collins calls it.
April Matthis, Mike Iveson, Annie McNamara. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Like those TV parodies mentioned above, Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf  belongs to the genre of “fan fiction,” wherein someone writes new material, usually unauthorized, about well-known fictional characters. There’s really no way to appreciate Scelsa’s take on Virginia Woolf without close familiarity with its plot and characters.
Mike Iveson, Annie McNamara. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Conceived (like the original) in three acts but played as an intermissionless hour-and-a-half one-act, EFWVW is about the same famous quartet: George (Vin Knight) and Martha Washington (Annie McNamara), the bibulous professor and his raucous wife, and Nick (Mike Iveson) and Honey Sloane (April Matthis), the desperate-for-tenure new professor and his innocuous wife. (Note the characters’ new last names, Sloane being an allusion to characters in ERS’s famous 2012 production of Gatz).
April Matthis, Annie McNamara. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Gathered for an evening of drinks, these cartoon characters enact a fever dream version of Albee’s play, played as steroid-level farce in a cartoon living room (designed by Louisa Thompson). Pregnancy being a theme of Albee’s play (Honey's "hysterical pregnancy" and Martha and George’s baby story), it takes on new meanings here, since both men are depicted as gay (although Nick has had an affair with Martha), but with Nick talking about mpreg, hoping he can one day give birth.
Annie McNamara. Photo: Joan Marcus.
The talk also emphasizes not only fan fiction but slash fiction, which Scelsa describes as being “where mostly straight women writers live out a fantasy of male queerness.” Fan fiction, slash fiction, mpreg! Ain’t theatre educational?
Vin Knight, Mike Iveson. Photo: Joan Marcus.
In her quest to “turn the tables” with her own version of Martha, Scelsa calls upon a constant stream of playwriting references, specifically to works whose gay authors depicted and destroyed damaged women who many see as hidden parts of the dramatists’ own personas. In this view, Martha is actually Albee’s avatar.
Annie McNamara, Vin Knight. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Substantial chunks of exaggeratedly acted dialogue lifted from Williams’s Blanche and Maggie mingle with allusions (usually comically distorted) not only to Albee’s play but to numerous other sources, including Annie Hall, “Will and Grace,” the Twilight series, Ibsen, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Samuel Beckett, Stephen Sondheim, Alison Bechdel, and so on. Perhaps for legal reasons, the script even concludes with a list of just where every arcane and not so arcane reference comes from.
Vin Knight, Mike Iveson, Annie McNamara. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Whatever sociological points Scelsa wants to make are buried in tons of exaggerated behavior. And if you think the two acts set in George and Martha’s house are pretty wild, wait until the third when George (like Jerry Springer in the recent "opera" about that TV personality) gets sent to purgatory. There, a huge robot glides about and George’s escort is neurosis-sucking female vampire cum Ph.D. candidate who pontificates with lines like this: “I would go so far as to argue that when men write about the failures of women, they’re writing about the failure of the vulnerable individual. And when men write about the failures of men, they’re writing about the failure of society.” How very un-Albee of her!
Vin Knight, Lindsay Hockaday. Photo: Joan Marcus.
There are indeed some yocks (a Woody Allen bit, especially), and many visitors continued to chuckle long after my own laugh battery died. All the actors acquit themselves well at this sort of pseudo-academic literary silliness, and, if you’re of a particular bent, you might even agree that Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf even if you’re still afraid of Edward Albee.

OTHER VIEWPOINTS:

Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand St., NYC
Through June 30










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