Theater review by Adam Feldman
Elevator Repair Service’s latest literary-historical project, unlike the company’s comprehensive Gatz or its speedy Measure for Measure, is less a deconstruction than a demolition derby. Kate Scelsa’s revenge comedy travesties elements of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? into feminist camp with a serrated queer edge. The furious, predatory Martha (Annie McNamara) now dominates the vicious games she plays with husband George (Vin Knight), rendered here as a bitchy, ineffectual queen. The ambitious guest Nick (Mike Iveson) writes mediocre slash fiction with “mpreg” (male pregnancy) themes, to the disappointment of his smarter-than-she-lets-on wife, Honey (April Matthis). “Martha,” Scelsa declares in the program, “must be avenged.”
For roughly the first quarter of its 70-minute running time, the play is very funny, in the vein of Christopher Durang’s Tennessee Williams spoof For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls. Scelsa’s writing is witty, the adept actors deliver amusing cartoons, and John Collins’s staging features clever metatheatrical sight and sound gags. But zany parodic energy is hard to sustain, and Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf slips into repetition. What emerges, with increasingly punitive bluntness, is rage against the way male authors, and especially gay male ones, write themselves into female characters. (“Tennessee Williams was a pathetic alcoholic who projected his own victim complex and internalized shame about his sexuality onto totally unrealistic depictions of hysterical women.”)
At its essence, Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf seems oddly retrograde: a paradoxical throwback to the attitudes of Stanley Kauffmann’s infamous 1966 New York Times takedown of Albee and others, “Homosexual Drama and Its Disguises.” Yet because the tone is comically absurdist, the satirical point remains slippery: “Ambiguous times call for ambiguous narratives, Honey,” as Martha notes. The play is provocative, but where does all this send-up and takedown leave us? Fixing an elevator may take more than pushing all its buttons.
Abrons Arts Center (Off Broadway). By Kate Scelsa. Directed by John Collins. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 10mins. No intermission.