Newnan Theatre presents ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

Newnan Theatre presents ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by Edward Albee, opens at Newnan Community Theatre on Thursday, February 16 at 8 p.m. and runs through February 26. The show “is not for the faint of heart,” said Artistic Director Paul Conroy, who is directing this intense drama. 

However, for true drama devotees, this is a play not to be missed. “It’s Albee’s best known work, and it puts him in the class with Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller—the great playwrights of American Theatre,” said Conroy. 

To say that Martha and George are having marital difficulties would be the understatement of the year.  “The Ladies’ Home Journal” wouldn’t tackle this one even in their “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” column. The audience is looking in on an ugly scene where two people virtually destroy each other and drag an unsuspecting young couple down with them.

George is a college professor and Martha is the college president’s daughter. They are named after George and Martha Washington, whose union, historians believe, was a marriage of convenience. Washington acquired his estate by marrying a rich widow, and George got his professorship by marrying the college president’s daughter. 
“This is a study of the dark places in a marital relationship,” said Conroy. “It might be a Valentine’s present for some people who need to make their own marriage look better!”

Where did the title come from? Most people will recognize the reference to the song from the Disney cartoon.  Albee claims to have seen “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” scrawled on a mirror in a bar. “When I started to write the play it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf . . . who’s afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical, university intellectual joke.”

The show opened on October 13, 1962, and was Edward Albee’s first play on Broadway. It won the New York Critics Circle award for best play and was selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for drama. “But the awards advisory board at Columbia University decided it was too profane and too sexual and rescinded the honor. No award was given that year for drama and half of the selection committee resigned,” said Conroy.   

People probably know the story better from the 1966 movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, which was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and is the only movie ever to be nominated in every eligible category. It won five awards: Best Actress for Elizabeth Taylor and Best Supporting Actress for Sandy Dennis, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. 

Newnan Theatre is presenting the show in the Black Box theatre in the round, meaning the audience will be seated on all sides. Each audience member looking into George and Martha’s living room will get a different perspective. Those seated in the front row audience will be only one foot away from the stage. 

“We want the audience to feel they are in the middle of something they really shouldn’t be,” said Conroy. “It’s almost like you’re driving down the highway and you see a very bad car wreck. You have to stop and look because of this morbid fascination we all have – there’s nothing we can do to help – we should move on – but because of our human nature we are captivated by it. You will be drawn in.”

For the actors and everyone involved, the heavy material is proving to be a challenge, as is performing in the round. “You have to get used to your back always being to somebody,” said Conroy. 

Kevin Macinturff, who was just in “On Golden Pond,” is playing George. Karrie Britton Jones, head of the theatre department at Heritage School, is playing Martha. She played the lead role in “Wit” and was also in “Psycho Beach Party.” Justin Sims, whose first show was “The Glass Menagerie,” has the role of Nick. Rachel Shuey, new to the theatre, is playing Honey. She studied theatre at Emory. 

As a policy Newnan Theatre Company performs a wide variety of shows. “We do not discriminate – we want to present a variety of good shows as best we can,” said Conroy. For example, following “Virginia Woolf” is “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” with forty children. “It’s bright, happy, and based on Biblical stories. It’s for everyone in the family. However, many people have no interest in coming to see a musical, a story based on the Bible, or something with children in it, just as others may not want to see something dramatic and dark with mature language or violence. We are presenting shows for the community as a whole in order to reach the biggest audience possible.”  

“If you’re comfortable bringing teenagers, that’s fine,” said Conroy. “But do your research. On the Internet you can find out about any show. There may be issues that some parents would like to discuss with their children. For others – not so much.”

Come and find out how a gifted director and a talented cast meet the challenges of this world famous drama – right here in Newnan.

To make reservations, and for show dates and times, visit Newnan Theatre Company’s newly designed web site at http://newnantheatre.org. The theatre building is located in historic downtown Newnan at 24 First Avenue.

If you have questions regarding the content of any show, email Artistic Director Paul Conroy at artistic-director@newnantheatre.org. 

— By Joan Doggrell (Special to The Citizen)