Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – The classic play from Edward Albee, which is one of the most intense two hours you can spend in a theater. It begins with the middle-aged couple of George and Marth coming home from a faculty party late at night, drunk, and bantering/bickering. As they start sorting through the evening in that way couples do, we learn that a few key things have happened. One, Martha made a very funny joke that became increasingly less funny the more times she told it and retold it throughout the evening. This joke is to sing the famous Three Little Pigs song from the Disney cartoon with the lyrics “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”. In addition, it turns out that Martha invited over a young couple from the party for a nightcap. This other couple (something from the math department?) are Nick and Honey. Nick is actually in the biology department it turns out. Something we also learn soon enough is that Martha is six years older than George, something that is less obvious if you know this from the movie version, as no one could ever confuse Elizabeth Taylor of being six years older than Richard Burton, and that she is the daughter of the college president/founder.
When Nick and Honey show up, the couples pair off with the men talking on stage first. There is a tension between them that nearly erupts in a fight as George is clearly jealous of Nick’s youth, but also resentful of the fact that he knows that Martha has only invited Nick over to try to sleep with him. The play continues in this fashion as we barrel toward one of several different collisions that will happen before we’re done.
The Zoo Story – This is a one-act play that is sometimes coupled with a kind of prequel act and performed as a two-part version. The original, though, is the one-act version. Peter is sitting quietly on a bench in Central Park one day. Peter is about 40, has a wife and kids and pets. He’s approached by Jerry, a man more or less his own age, who immediately strikes up a conversation, interrupting Peter’s peace. The conversation Jerry wants to have is about irruptions, or more so, about creating irruptions in Peter’s sense of the world. These are not necessarily profound conversations, but maybe speak to a kind of profound sensibility about the world still grasping for meaning and articulation. Peter is willing to lightly indulge Jerry. This is not a conversation of repartee or anything like that, but of tension and menace. Jerry clearly wants something from Peter, and Peter wants to know what this is, not because of sympathy or compassion, but because he’s trying to figure out how much, if any danger, he is in here. Jerry begins to talk about violence and the potential for violence, and begins a story about visiting the zoo. He gets sidetracked, and then tells a disturbing story about a dog, and finally gets back to the zoo. The zoo, as you could already guess, functions as a metaphor about life and Jerry’s sense of place within it. That’s at least how it initially seems, but it’s unclear if maybe Peter is the one in the zoo. Hard to tell. It’s a short play so I won’t say more, but it’s clear that more gets answered as the story unfolds.
This is an uncomfortable play, and shares some sensibility with Beckett, and I found out that it was often performed in a double-feature with Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape, also about a man questioning the life he lived.