You’d think after fifty years a play about an aging alcoholic couple who bickers and lures an unsuspecting couple into their web of insanity would lose some of it’s bite. You’d think that this subject matter would no longer be interesting or powerful. You, of course, would be wrong.
Last night one of my favorite people on the planet joined me for an evening of theater. Being both of the alcoholic variety, it was fitting that our choice for such a date night was Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Spark Theater. For me, Albee’s masterpiece is the closest you can get to active alcoholism without having to pick up a drink. He so perfectly captures the delusional and paranoid thinking of the alcoholic mind without turning the show into a cautionary tale or after-school special. Each phrase is so pointed, so poetic and every twisted thought of the characters’ is laid bare on the stage. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is often referenced by members of 12 Step groups when talking about alcoholic relationships and it’s easy to see why. The work captures the truly fucked up existence and warped behavior of an alcoholic couple. George and Martha prove that the couple who drinks together, loses their grip on reality together. Running at 3 hours, the show is an intense epic beast. I’m glad I waited for 4 years of sobriety to watch it again. Earlier in recovery, the work would have certainly fallen in the ‘too close to home’ category.
Like many of us, I lived through my own George and Martha moments while I was drinking. The “drinking and fighting” combination platter was one I ordered for many years.When I ended up being that person in that alcoholic relationship, I couldn’t believe it. I mean I knew better, didn’t I? Having grown up around drinkers who like to fight (or maybe they were fighters who liked to drink?), I always thought I’d never end up like them. I’d never identify with sad, awful souls like George and Martha. I’d never get drunk and yell in front of guests in my own home. Well, never say never. While non-alcoholics surely see George and Martha for the monsters they are, for me as a person in recovery it’s hard to not have compassion for them. If you’ve been there, you know how hard it is to get out and all of their crazy thinking seems rational to people like us.
If you’re in Denver, go see this show. Seriously. The acting is spectacular and seeing Albee live is something every American theater lover should do at least once. Spark’s productions are intimate and raw and this serves Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf extremely well. If you’re looking for a cushy opera seat and a production done by old, white corporate theater, skip this and go see Legally Blonde or some other mind rotting unoriginal piece of shit on stage. If however, you are interested in work that still has guts after 50 years presented with integrity, check this out. Watching this couple sink into alcoholic insanity on stage last night made me feel grateful for the life I have now, it made me feel grateful for artists like Albee who tell the truth about the human condition and made me feel inspired by theater and art and it’s ability to make us aware, alive and yes, even a little afraid.