By Kate Scelsa; Directed by John Collins
Produced by Elevator Repair Service
Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 6.30.18
Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street
by Ken Kaissar on 6.12.18
Vin Knight, April Matthis, and Mike Iveson in Everyone's Fine with Virginia Woolf. Photo by Joan Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: A hilarious, if perhaps overdone, parody of Edward Albee’s classic play.
Everyone loves a good parody, especially when the source material being mocked is a highly revered masterpiece like Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Spoofing a work of art is an act of love, a recognition that the piece is an essential part of our shared cultural vocabulary. Only work that endures the test of time lends itself well to a satisfying spoof: Shakespeare, The Bible, Gone with the Wind. In Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf, Elevator Repair Service makes love to a familiar American classic, and just like good lovemaking, their production is passionate, messy, and vulgar.
In Albee's play, George and Martha come home from a party at the college where George teaches (by the good graces of Martha’s father, the college president). While hosting another couple, Nick and Honey, for a post-soirée cocktail—or six—George and Martha wage a war of frustration, humiliation, and contempt in front of their guests.
Albee’s play is driven by innuendo and subtext. But in Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf, playwright Kate Scelsa allows the characters to speak the subtext in hilarious ways, transforming Albee’s play from a funny, serious drama to a raucous comedy. The play succeeds most when Scelsa carefully toes the line between parody and homage, infusing the text with observations about these characters, ones that we’ve likely recognized before, but never bothered to articulate. As George (Vin Knight) strays away from ostensibly civil behavior and loses his temper, Martha (Annie McNamara) reminds him that “it’s too early for you to use your evil voice.”
The entire cast is excellent at imitating these familiar characters and commenting on their absurdity at the same time. McNamara captures Martha’s ennui while mocking Albee’s portrayal of a woman’s frustration and inability to improve her life. Vin Knight’s George is so faithful to Albee’s play that I would love to see him play the role in a sincere production of the source text.
Under the direction of John Collins, the company’s artistic director, the production looks and feels like a legitimate rendition of Albee’s classic. But a closer look at Louisa Thompson’s intelligent set design reveals that several set elements, like books and a coat tree, are two-dimensional images painted onto fabric that eventually collapses as the show goes on. The actors are unburdened by the artifice of the set, allowing coats to fall hilariously to the floor without recognition or concern.
While Scelsa’s play challenges Albee’s need to vilify and defeat a powerful woman like Martha, Scelsa communicates most successfully when she remains faithful to Albee’s text and focuses her efforts on imitation. Eventually, the play spins out of control and goes out of its way to comment on its source. Neither playwright nor director trusts the material or the audience enough to let us out with a wink-wink; they can’t resist delivering a punch to the face for good measure. Scelsa’s challenge to Albee becomes laborious when it is made explicit.
Though Albee never demonstrated a sense of humor about his work and didn’t much care to be challenged, I do think he would have been intrigued by Everyone’s Fine. His play is ridiculed faithfully and accurately, and after a few grumbles, he might have been flattered to know that we understand his play well enough to make fun of it. Anyone who feels that they don’t need to see yet another production of Who’s Afraid will enjoy a good laugh here.
(Everyone's Fine with Virginia Woolf plays at Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street, through June 30, 2018. The running time is 75 minutes. Performances are Wednesdays through Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $65 - $75 ($40 artist, $25 student) and are available at abronsartscenter.org or by calling 212-352-3101. For more information visit elevator.org.)
Everyone's Fine with Virginia Woolf is by Kate Scelsa. Directed by John Collins. Set Design by Louisa Thompson. Costume Design by Kaye Voyce. Lighting Design by Ryan Seelig. Sound Design by Ben Williams. Prop Design by Amanda Villalobos. Stage Manager is Maurina Lioce.
The cast is Annie McNamara, April Matthis, Vin Knight, Mike Iveson, and Lindsay Hockaday.