By Kate Scelsa
Directed by John Collins
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
In Act III of Edward Albee’s classic play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (The Exorcism), George and Martha are alone following Nick and Honey’s departure. The deception that has haunted their marriage has been “exorcised” and the couple wonders what their future holds: Will things get better? Can they survive without the deception? Will they be all right? Albee’s dense text is to be parsed on several deep levels and through a variety of critical lenses, including the historical and psychological. Albee is deeply concerned about the future of America and his rich tropes and deep questions surround that primary theme. One would have to stay on the surface of the text to find misogyny and patriarchy as significant themes or relevant traits of the playwright or his male characters.
Apparently, playwright Kate Scelsa has chosen to identify those exact themes in her deconstruction of Albee’s play. Billed as “a loving homage and a wildly hilarious feminist take-down of an American classic,” Elevator Repair Service’s “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf,” currently playing at Abrons Arts Center, rarely rises above an attempt to reinvent that classic. Ms. Scelsa’s retelling is, at times, funny – particularly in the “First Act.” There are well-written allusions to Albee’s play and quite funny recitations of George’s (the implacable Vin Knight) favorite Tennessee Williams soliloquies. Martha (the irrepressible Annie McNamara) has invited Nick (the obsequious Mike Iveson) and Honey (the unabashed April Matthis) – from an earlier party – for drinks, debauchery, and “diriculous” sexual escapades. And the familiar party begins.
It is all here really for anyone looking to find the bones of the 1962 novel in this 2018 riff. There is heavy drinking, though George drinks more than Martha who tosses her alcohol on the unsuspecting (and now quite dead) plants. There are arguments that cut deeply into Martha and George’s sense of well-being, though George comes across a tad more caustic and unforgiving. There are references to their “baby boy not coming home for his birthday,” though the importance of the “imaginary” child is never addressed by Ms. Scelsa. And there are multiple references to Honey’s “hysterical pregnancies” without any attempt to explore the importance of these events. Of course, Nick deals with his own attempts at giving birth in his “slash fiction, which is fan fiction where you make everyone gay even if they’re not.” Now who is being exploited?
The playwright’s attempt to find Martha at the end of Albee’s play “destroyed by this idea of motherhood, of not living up to this very traditional idea of what it means to be a woman” and the promise of delivering the ferocity of Martha’s revenge on an unsuspecting patriarchy are not sustained in Ms. Scelsa’s script. Further, the rich homoerotic themes in Albee’s work are trivialized beyond meaning in “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf.” And the “vampiric” Third Act with Carmilla the PhD candidate (the irrepressible Lindsay Hockaday) completely derails.
Kate Scelsa wrote “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” for the Elevator Repair Service as “a very passionate love letter to the company that has been [her] theatrical home for the past fifteen years.” Had “the letter” been written in collaboration with that company, the deep and enduring question Albee raises through Martha’s weltanschauung might have found answers – or at least approximations to those resolutions. See “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” if you enjoy riffs of classic American plays and arcane references to those plays in snippets of dialogue. Refrain from engaging the play if you are seeking a thoughtful deconstruction of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Truth be told, we all should be fearful. Go ask Albee’s Martha who profoundly understood the fine line between reality and illusion.