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A CurtainUp Review
Everyone's Fine With Virginia Woolf

Tennessee Williams was a pathetic alcoholic who projected his own victim complex and internalized shame about his sexuality onto totally unrealistic depictions of hysterical women.— Martha
elevator repair
Annie McNamara, Vin Knight (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Kate Scelsa's Everyone's Fine with Virginia Woolf, written for Elevator Repair Service and directed by company founder John Collins, asks a question that has never really been answered: can one make a successful parody of a work that's already a parody?

Edward Albee's 1962 award-winning (but not Pulitzer-winning) play is a searing examination of American marriage, which the playwright believed was based on "false illusions." If the perfect American family consisted of a mother, a father and two or more children, the two couples Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf presents prove to be far different than this ideal.

One couple comprises a husband (George, an associate professor of history), a wife (Martha, whose father is president of the college where George teaches), and an imaginary child. This child, lovingly described in Act III, was invented by the couple as a kind of compensation for their infertility. The other couple includes a husband (Nick, a biology teacher longing for tenure at the college) and his wife (Honey, a mousey woman who is recovering from a "hysterical pregnancy").

In the original play, it is only as the alcohol-fueled evening progresses that we learn the dysfunctional nature of Albee's "typical" families. In Scelsa's energetic version, we know what's going on from the get-go.

Just to remove any possible doubt, George (Vin Knight) and Martha (Annie McNamara) are now given the surname "Washington." Soon Martha tells her husband, "We have an imaginary son and an imaginary dog and I loved the dog more and you killed the son. And your parents. You have your job because of my father and you hate it and I've never had a job. Because of my father. And I love it."

When Honey (April Matthis) arrives, the first words out of her mouth are, "I'm not pregnant. I just found out." Nick (Mike Iveson) then rushes in to explain that he used to write "slash mpreg," in which men have sex with each other and then get pregnant.

Thus the basic conceit of the parody is established. In this broad but intelligent comedy, the actors don't have to worry about subtext. There will be no subtlety here. These people are nuts and we all know it.

In less imaginative hands, this would leave the play with no place to go. But Scelsa broadens the satire by turning it into a treatise on female empowerment. First she takes aim at male playwrights who thought they understood women: Tennessee Williams and Henrik Ibsen.

"I have always depended on the blindness or rangers," George quips in a Southern lady accent. "So what now?" Martha asks George. "Could you commit violence upon this room or upon our bodies? Upon yourself? I see no gun in the first act, Hedda darling. And listen, Nora. That door leads into the garage. Which is locked. So there's no way out."

And there's more for literature buffs. When Nick reads an excerpt from his writing, it turns out to be a strange version of Walt Whitman's "Oh Captain! My Captain!" that somehow morphs into Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for death."

There's also considerable updating of the play. People read and write blogs. There are heavy doses of modern literary theory. George creates a scenario for Will and Grace. Need I say Martha gets even?

The best audience for Everyone's Fine with Virginia Woolf is probably a group of twenty-something English majors, who will enjoy both the literary and the trendy references. For others, the play may seem like a very good Saturday Night Live sketch that goes on a bit too long.

Below are Elevator Repair Service shows previously reviewed at Curtainup
Gatz-Boston premiere
Gatz -Public
Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises
Measure for Measure
No Great Society
Total Fictional Lies
Highway to Tomorrow
Arguendo-Supreme Court Riff
Faulkner's Sound and the Fury
Fondly Collette Richards

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Everyone's Fine with Virginia Woolf by Kate Scelsa
Directed by John Collins
Cast: Vin Knight (George Washington); Annie McNamara (Martha Washington); Mike Iveson (NIck Sloane); April Matthis (Honey Sloane); Lindsay Hockaday (Camila, PhD Candidate)
Scenic Design: Louisa Thompson
Costume Design: Kaye Voyce
Lighting Design: Ryan Seelig
Sound Design: Ben Williams
Running Time: 75 minutes
Abrons Arts Center, 44 Grand Street,
From 6/01/18; opening 6/12/18; closing 6/30/18
Wednesday thru Saturday at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm
Tickets: $25–$85;; 866-811-4111
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 10, 2018

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