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“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” dissects human relationships

Updated: Feb 24

Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

“Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf?” the husband chanted mockingly to his wife onstage. For the longest time, I wondered why this song specifically? What’s its significance? But I’ll get to all that in due time. First, context. On Friday, Feb. 9, I went to see the play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” at the Gamm Theatre in Warwick with my best friend. Starring Gamm’s Artistic Director Tony Estrella as George, Jeanine Kane as George’s wife Martha, Gunner Manchester as Nick and Gabrille McCaully as Nick’s wife Honey, the play is a brilliant exploration of the illusions we cast over our lives when faced with tragedy and the lies grief-stricken people sometimes tell each other to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. 

The plot for the play is simple. After meeting at a university party, George and Martha invite a younger couple, new students Nick and Honey, over to their house to spend the night talking and having drinks. As the night goes on however, secrets are revealed, bitter truths are spilled and what starts as casual conversation degrades into a nonstop back and forth flurry of harsh insults and caustic retorts. Only time will tell if the couples will be able to recover from this disastrous tragedy of an evening.

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This play is sharp, fast-paced and witty. Not a second is wasted when it comes to the accusations and death threats the characters constantly lob at each other. Despite this, the play remains emotional and poignant throughout. The respective painful experiences that George, Martha, Nick and Honey have gone through over the course of their lives is fully explored as they all break down and are left in despair. What really fascinates me about “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” It is often hard to tell when the characters are lying about who they and the other characters are and when they’re telling the truth. Are all of them lying for the entire play? Are they all telling the truth? Is it truth with lies sprinkled in or vice versa? Hard to say really. It’s a very surreal experience to be certain. 

George and Nick clash when it comes to their respective scholarly professions (a historian and biologist respectively), with George convinced that scientists will transform the world into a eugenics-fueled dystopia and Nick thinking that George is a blowhard who knows nothing about science. In a way, the two represent the past and the future, what is outdated and old fashioned and what is new and unbelievable. This contrast defines both characters. On the other hand, Martha and Honey represent cynicism and idealism. Martha is a cynic who has long grown tired of the hate-fueled games of insult one-upmanship she often plays with George. Meanwhile, Honey is an idealist dreamer who loves her husband without question and never doubts him. However, as the play proves, both are deeply flawed. Martha antagonizes George as much as he antagonizes her, so she’s just as much to blame for the couple’s misery as he is and Honey is unaware that Nick married her because he thought she was pregnant. To add to their conflict, George and Nick can’t put their egos aside for a single minute, both believing completely that they are intellectually superior to their rival. They are both full of themselves and neither will admit to their mistakes.

In the end, I think that the reason the characters mockingly sing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” throughout the play is because all of them are afraid of Virginia Woolf, or rather, the truth about their pasts and themselves. Nobody can admit that they are at fault and apologize for their errors and that’s why the friendships between the characters quickly unravel. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is an amazing play that challenges our notions of what is reality and what is illusion. The play’s showings have been extended to Feb. 25th, so I recommend visiting the Gamm’s website to buy tickets while you can.


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