REVIEW: “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf”—Martha’s Revenge!
The title of Elevator Repair Service (ERS)’s latest production, “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf”, drips with so much post-modernist irony, it’s almost too irresistible. Fortunately this new play by company member Kate Scelsa at the Abrons Arts Center in the East (and I mean east) Village is equally as irresistible.
Over the course of 75 brisk minutes overflowing with ERS’s characteristic mischief and madness, “Everyone’s Fine” blazingly skewers “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, one of the greatest plays in the canon. Edward Albee’s 1962 masterpiece provides rich source material for a not-so-subtle roast that, like all good roasts, is based in admiration and respect.
Ms. Scelsa set out not to dismantle “Who’s Afraid” so much as to respond to it with a self-styled “fan fiction” parody examination containing a sometimes absurdist literary, dramaturgical, and feminist critique, shifting power dynamics and sexual politics among Albee’s famous quartet of characters. This time, Martha’s in charge.
The setup is the same as Albee’s play, but the details—and results—wildly different. Late one night on a tony college campus, George (Vin Knight), an English professor, and his wife, Martha (Annie McNamara), the ambitious daughter of the college president, return home from a faculty cocktail party. Martha reveals she’s invited Nick (Mike Iveson), a young professor who writes Mpreg (male pregnancy) slash fiction, and his seemingly-vacuous wife, “Honey” (April Mathis), over for a drink.
What ensues is a vicious and hysterically funny conversation exploring notions of truth and reality and the nature of fiction. Ms. Scelsa’s increasingly sloshed characters have no inner-monologue; devoid of subtext, their ids naked, they offer bald-faced pronouncements of their intentions and feelings, making for a raucous series of interactions. A fifth character named Carmilla, a “feminist vampire and grad student”, appears in the final third of the play, which journeys beyond Albee’s ending and this earth, a now-defeated George left to pick up the pieces while singing a torch song.
Through her characters, Ms. Scelsa indicts the way in which white, gay male playwrights—like Albee and Tennessee Williams—crafted their tragic female heroines, resolving to make her Martha and Honey strident and sexualized, fully actualized and in charge of their destinies. This question of representation, of how who wields the pen shapes the characterization of personalities who become ingrained in our culture—iconoclasts like George and Martha, and Blanche, Stella, and Stanley—is a worthy one, befitting ERS’s literary mission and tradition.
The lightness of the interrogation, though, and the messy overlap of arguments and ideas within, largely prevent Ms. Scelsa’s points from taking root in any serious or impactful way. Instead, this skit-like satire play spins then sputters out of control, a devolution marked by the literal deconstruction of the set (by Louisa Thompson) in that final third, bizarre act. This feels ok and forgivable, though, because of the intelligence of those ideas and arguments, and the ambition of the overarching enterprise—its collective zaniness well-captured by director John Collins.
Plays that find their impetus in commentary upon other plays might feel like the most exclusionary and academic type of theatre imaginable, but even those with passing familiarity with Albee’s classic (which is required) will find much to enjoy in Ms. Scelsa’s response. Ms. McNamara’s Martha alone makes it all worth it. To quote another famous vixen, “fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Bottom Line: Elevator Repair Service’s “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” by Kate Scelsa is self-styled “fan fiction” parody response to Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, lovingly skewering the latter with a sometimes absurdist literary, dramaturgical, and feminist critique. The ambition is admirable and the result mixed, though entertaining.
“Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf”
Elevator Repair Service
at the Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street
New York, NY 10002
Running Time: 75 minutes (no intermission)
Opening Night: June 12, 2018
Final Performance: June 30, 2018