The Back Room

With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

My bride and I watched another film last night.  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

We split our sides in laughter with Woody Allen the night before and rewarded ourselves having our guts ripped out by Edward Albee the following night.

At a local eatery, dining on grilled octopus, skirt steak sliders, suckling pig and barbeque short ribs, I suggested we watch the film as a precursor to another Albee play we will be seeing this month in NYC.

“You should see what Albee is capable of,” I told her, gently.

So once again we hunkered down on the “sofa” with our cups of tea and snuggled close, welcoming the relentless verbal carnage.

A long evening dealing in “truth and illusion” with games becoming more dangerous, the stakes growing higher, powers and alliances shifting with painful consequences, ending in a devastating climax so carefully plotted many never see coming.

She liked it.  There weren’t too many side-glances but she did shudder a few times.  It was certainly a tougher pill than Allen’s “what we have here is a dead shark” relationship analogy but the rewards of peeling back George and Martha’s layers may have been richer.

Holding me tight, she whispered, “Why didn’t she leave years ago?  She seemed so unhappy.”

I told her by the time she realized his limitations it was too late.  She had cast her lot with him.

For the next hour we discussed the character motivations and arcs, even fast forwarding and pausing certain scenes of foreshadowing clarifying the genius of the playwright.  We talked about the difference between seeing a play and seeing a film.  Though he has done many plays, few have been made into films.  I posited that the intimacy being shared on stage is so present it draws us in and makes us complicit even as we become uncomfortable, as we did in last month’s play Scenes From a Marriage. 

Audience participation is an integral component to Albee’s works.  Mike Nichols directed Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with close-ups, a constantly moving camera and framed in tight spaces, all which heightened our suspense and claustrophobia.  Albee’s characters demand inclusion as they reveal painful truths that the audience may be unwilling to admit about themselves.

We both agreed the acting was something special though she preferred Elizabeth Taylor and I Richard Burton.

Richard Burton.  My God…  Richard Burton.  An astonishment of acting demonstrating the overwhelming victory the English claimed from American actors years ago.  Talk about unfair fights.  The Battle of Yorktown seems a rather tepid consolation prize in retrospect.

I particularly liked how with his innocuous bodily intrusion Burton threatens the group even when it seems he is the only member “without a vertebra”.  How he commands attention carefully drawing the audience in through mastery of pauses and pitch.

We had last seen Elizabeth Taylor in Life With Father so her transformation was remarkable.  She received proper Academy credit for the role, going round after round with Burton never giving an inch.  And it was her arc that my angel appreciated most, from taunting liquor-heavy cougar to broken egg her yolk puddled under her crumpled body.

My bride recognized George Segal and Sandy Dennis’ faces and my internal IMDB helped fill in the cracks.

Who’s that guy?  He looks familiar.

That’s George Segal.  Remember him from Flirting With Disaster?  He played Ben Stiller’s father?

The real father or adoptive one?

No.  Not Alan Alda.  George Segal played the adoptive father, the one who was food phobic with a significant blind spot.

He’s so young here.  And she looks familiar.

Sandy Dennis.  She was in a Woody Allen film Another Woman.

Ohhhh, we should see that.

Um, okay.  It’s kinda of a slow, plodding drama.  But sure, we can see it.

And so the weekend comes to an end, bookended by two very different films about relationships and the tremendous cost to maintain them.  With my girl by my side I have truly found a partner as stimulated by the human condition as I and open to whatever these artists bravely share.

Even if it means “total war”.


2 comments on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

  1. Lawrence Davis
    November 17, 2014

    To be fair, he was a Welshman.


    • Andrew Davis
      November 17, 2014

      Beautiful. I happened to re-read my piece after it was sent and noticed the error. I thought about correcting it and then thought, ah, what are the odds I will be called out on it given the powerful emotion expressed in the piece. Lesson learned.


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This entry was posted on November 16, 2014 by in Films, Movies and tagged , , .

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