Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was first performed in New York City in 1962. The play stunned and pleased American audiences, seemed to provide a vital insight into American life. The country was coming out of the 1950s, when Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower was a conservative, well-loved president and television shows like Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best were popular. The importance of a happy family was emphasized by both politicians and popular culture. Many Americans considered success to be measured by having one's own house, car, kids, and dog. By all shallow measures, the 1950s were a stable, productive time for the United States of America. And yet, these shallow measures and the trappings of success often hid real problems, which will eventually crop up in any human community. It is this raw, human truth beneath the phony exterior that Edward Albee attempts to reveal in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Edward Albee grew up in a family deeply invested in projecting the perfect image of itself into social situations. Born in Washington D.C. on March 12, 1928, Albee was adopted by a wealthy family from Larchmont, New York. This affluent suburb of New York City was home to a rich, competitive social scene, of which his mother, in particular, was very much a part. Through his youth, Albee resisted interacting with this culture, finding it hollow and unsatisfactory. At age twenty, after years of expensive schooling at prestigious institutions, Albee moved to New York City's Greenwich Village to join the avant-garde art scene. His first play, The Zoo Story, was performed in 1959, met with fine success, and launched his career. After that, Albee earned much praise for most of his work, the most famous of which are Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Delicate Balance, and Three Tall Women. General Summary
The play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is set on the campus of a small, New England university. It opens with the main characters, George and Martha coming home from a party at her father's house. The two of them clearly care deeply for each other, but events have turned their marriage into a nasty battle between two disenchanted, cynical enemies. Even though the pair arrives home at two o'clock in the morning, they are expecting guests: the new math professor and his wife. Of course, as it turns out, this new, young professor, Nick, actually works in the biology department. He and his wife, Honey, walk into a brutal social situation. In the first act, "Fun and Games," Martha and George try to fight and humiliate each other in new, inventive ways. As they peel away each other's pretenses and self-respect, George and Martha use Honey and Nick as pawns, transforming their guests into an audience to witness humiliation, into levers for creating jealousy, and into a means for expressing their own sides of their mutual story. In the second act, "Walpurgisnacht," these games get even nastier. The evening turns into a nightmare. George and Martha even attack Honey and Nick, attempting to force them to reveal their dirty secrets and true selves. Finally, in the last act, "The Exorcism," everyone's secrets have been revealed and purged. Honey and Nick go home, leaving Martha and George to try to rebuild their shattered marriage. Characters
George - A 46-year-old member of the history department at New Carthage University. George is married to Martha, in a once loving relationship now defined by sarcasm and frequent acrimony. Martha - Martha is the 52-year-old daughter of the president of New Carthage University. She is married to George, though disappointed with his aborted academic career. She attempts to have an affair with Nick. Nick - Nick has just become a new member of the biology faculty at New Carthage University. He is 28 years old, good-looking, Midwestern, and clean-cut. He is married to Honey. Honey - Honey is the petite, bland wife of Nick. She is 26 years old, has a weak stomach, and is not the...
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