Review of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

by Jim Farrar (1977)

Jim was so inspired by this BSU production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf that he decided to become a playwright. He dropped out of school to pursue this passion and completed two plays. He later returned to BSU to finish his B.A. in English.

Before I walked into the theatre to see this play, I must admit that I was just a bit skeptical about the ability of four college actors and actresses to bring the full impact of Mr. Albee’s play to life. These fears, however, were removed just minutes into the opening act. Bruce Richardson’s presence on stage immediately dispelled any of the reservations that I may have had about the cast’s ability to do justice to Mr. Albee’s work. From the subtle viciousness of George to the almost obtuse innocence of Honey, the entire cast gave their audience an almost impeccable performance.

The intensity of this play is amazing. I had always thought that ‘Virginia Woolf’ itself was quite an electrifying tale, and this particular rendition of it did nothing at all to alter my opinion. Perhaps that best adjective I can use to describe this performance is smooth, so smooth, in fact, that at times I was not consciously aware of the fact that I was sitting in a theatre watching four performers go through the motions of presenting a play for a real, live, audience. Rather, I felt that I was witnessing a macabre family fight being carried on by four “real” people who just happened to be getting pretty drunk in the meantime. This is a compliment of the first degree, for the play’s effect was to get me (and the rest of the audience, I’m sure) totally involved in what was happening up on the stage. To put it succinctly, it was very authentically done – and very effective.

This authenticity, I think, was evident for several reasons. First of all, Roger Bedard’s set was flawless. The color and general decor seemed to augment the mood that the cast so effectively created and conveyed to the audience. Perhaps it was the contrast between the bland, nothing-out-of-the-ordinary setting, as compared to what took place within it’s confines that impressed me so. At any rate, the set worked: it did nothing whatsoever to detract from the performance and, in my opinion, did a great deal to embellish it. In every way it was realistic; from the hallways to the front porch landing, the set was believable.

More important than the set, however, to the success of this presentation were the performances of Bruce Richardson, Ginger Scott, Allen Grunerud, and Shellie Harwood. Richardson, especially, was impressive. He seemed perfect for the role of George: subtle strength mixed with overt weakness, which he played to the limit of near perfection.

As Martha, Ginger Scott was obnoxious, crass, cruel, and vulgar – a perfect portrayal of the character, in other words. However, I think she was slightly miscast. I had expected a middle-aged lady to come crashing through the door at the outset of the play, instead I was given a fairly young woman who, after one glance at Richard’s head of grey hair, looked even greener. (But, then again, how many fifty-two year old women auditioned for the part?) Perhaps this problem might have been minimized by a different choice of costume for Martha. The bell-bottomed slacks, boots, and bright colors in general, gave her a somewhat youthful – too youthful, in fact – appearance. This could have been corrected, I think, through the use of a plainer blouse, duller and blander slacks and shoes, a different hair style, and, perhaps a more liberal application of make-up. Ah, so much for the willing suspension of disbelief.

Allen Grunerud and Shellie Harwood also deserve praise. As Honey, Shellie did a fantastic job of creating the oh-too-silly and drunk character that Albee obviously intended her to be. (I really thought she was going to throw up at the end of the first act.)

If Honey seemed to be an inept ninny, Grunerud’s Nick was, in contrast, sophisticated, too sophisticated and too scheming, in fact, for his (Nick’s) own good, as things turned out. Grunerud was perfectly cast for the part, like his counterpart, gave a superb performance.

All in all, I thought the production was extremely well done and I enjoyed it thoroughly. (I saw it three times, in fact). The cast was able to establish a rapport with the audience, which, in turn, led to empathy between actors and audience. That alone made it a successful production.

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