A couple of weekends ago I went to a local theatre to see the Edward Albee play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It’s a play that was lauded when it was first produced in the ‘60s, and was made more famous by the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton movie version. It’s the story of George and Martha, a bitter married couple, living an illusion, and dragging a young unsuspecting couple into their turmoil. I’ve seen the play and the movie in the past, but it wasn’t until I saw it this time that the story really hit me.
Early in the story, the subject of George and Martha’s son comes up, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that someone is not telling the truth about the son. At the end of the play, it is revealed that George and Martha couldn’t have children, and the fictional son is part of a twisted psychological game the couple plays together. What makes the story heart-wrenching is that it becomes apparent that the game is ordinarily a tender private game, but in the play they have broken their own rule and made their son public. Consequently the game becomes a bitter, ugly battle.
Martha is a drunk and a philanderer, she’s bitter, twisted, and frankly, unhinged. She is also childless-not-by-choice. It’s easy to dismiss Martha as crazy, but seeing the play this time, I found myself nodding, and saying to myself, “Yes, I can see how she became the way she is.” Martha had great expectations for her life and it just didn’t turn out the way she planned, so she fabricated the life she wanted instead.
I could have written a post today about how childless women are so often portrayed as anything from odd to downright crazy, but the truth is, Albee took the very real emotions and social stigma of being childless-not-by-choice and created an extreme, but very real scenario. In my opinion Who’s Afraid Virginia Woolf deserves all the critical acclaim it received.