Exile’s Woolf

Playwright Nicholas Wardigo and actor Emilie Krause.
Playwright Nicholas Wardigo and actor Emilie Krause.

First things first: Episode 1.3 of Martinis with Nick went live yesterday.  If you hop over there, you can check out playwright Jacqui Goldfinger talking about the Foundry (the program she co-founded) and using the word “quixotic” to badmouth me.  Good times.

Second things second: Aurora and I checked out Theatre Exile’s production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and it was terrific.  And not just because my buddy Emilie Krause was playing Honey or that Joe Canuso, someone I’ve worked with before, was directing.

It doesn’t hurt that it’s a wonderful script, and it definitely doesn’t hurt that it was recommended for the Pulitzer Prize in 1963 and refused the prize by Columbia University, causing the judges to resign and the play to be forever emblazoned in infamy.  Above and beyond that, it was beautifully directed and performed, and I was particularly taken by the set, designed by Meghan Jones, which perfectly evoked the abode of a jaded and beaten-down middle-aged adjunct professor whose life didn’t work out the way he thought it would.  I’ve read this play several times and seen it performed maybe three times, but this production hit me a little differently.  It took me a few days to realize it, but I have actually reached the age of the middle-aged adjunct professor.  When I read or saw this thing in the past, its themes struck me strictly on a theoretical level.  Now that I’m firmly a forty-something, I recognize the traps that George has stumbled into, most of which I—thankfully—skirted in my own life.  It’s always been a beautifully uncomfortable play for me, but age (my own, not the play’s) has cast a patina of poignancy upon it.

It is, however, dated.  There, I said it.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, I appreciate this piece as a slightly-absurdist time capsule of 1960s academia and how the culture of the period butchered the American dream.  But let’s not call it something it isn’t.  I happened to read some reviews before I saw the show, and I noticed reviewers commenting on how well the play has aged, which smacks of the same sentiment as when professors talk about how relevant Billy Shakespeare is.  Billy might be bold, might be fun, might be risqué or inspiring, but he isn’t relevant, unless you know a king who rose to power by pouring poison in his brother’s ear.

In Woolf, Nick is a young, ambitious professor who has just been hired by the college and plans to run the place in twenty years by drinking, smoking, and screwing the wives of all the other professors.  While it’s true that I’m largely ignorant of the machinations of academia, I find it hard to believe that that plan would fly in today’s university system.  I find it hard to believe it would’ve worked in 1963, either, but I can believe that an inexperienced thirty-year-old might think it would.

Anyway, it still runs for one more weekend, so if you’re on the fence about seeing it, don’t be.  Just go.

In other news, I ran into a friend at the theater, Debby Lau, who is an Events and Development Associate, but I knew her when she worked in a spider hole, running a projector for a production and praying that the stage crew didn’t forget she was in there.

Events and Development Associate Debby Lau, playwright Nicholas Wardigo, and charming spouse Aurora Johansen-Wardigo.
Events and Development Associate Debby Lau, playwright Nicholas Wardigo, and charming spouse Aurora Johansen-Wardigo.

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