A boozed and sorrowful night

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? finishes run at K-W Little Theatre

Contributed image
Contributed image

“To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

This quote comes from Homer Simpson, one of pop culture’s most famous and unflinching alcoholics. It’s obviously intended as a joke but Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which just finished its run at the Kitchener-Waterloo Little Theatre, made me wonder if there’s some sad, painful truth underneath the veil of farce.

The play, by focusing on two pairs of drunk and tired strangers either speaking in awkward small-talk or shouting confessions at each other, takes place in more-or-less real time from two to five in the morning in one set.

It made sense for a local production, as minimal resources and transitions are required. They talk, they drink, they fight, they drink, flowers get thrown, they drink, the young couple leaves and nobody’s happy. And yet there’s a good amount of humour integrated into the dialogue, which creates an unusual but intriguingly complex mix — like if the cast of Seinfeld lived in a Tennessee Williams world.

I personally didn’t laugh much because everyone was drunk and miserable, but the rest of the audience had a hearty chuckle, so maybe the humour was actually funny. I thought it felt more in service to give the drama a sense of conversational fluctuation that added to the realism, even if modern-day speaking patterns led to all the usage of the word “goddamn” feeling inorganic.

Despite that, this specific production did well by the source material. The acting was mostly good, with Scott Cooper being the highlight as the wearily gruff George. Jessica Carswell also fared very well as the constantly drunk and very giggly – if only on the surface – Honey. Although she did not get much of the spotlight, she made the most of it when she did.

Greg Allen was good as Nick, even if some of his reactions were a little more underplayed than they should have been. The weakest link was Kate Urquhart as Martha, although not for a lack of trying. She had moments that showed she is capable of being a good performer ­— such as an imagined conversation with her father — but it was a case of unfortunate miscasting. Urquhart seemed 20 years too young for the role, resulting in an affectation that played more reminiscent of Greta Gerwig in Mistress America than a depressed 50-year-old. But that’s just the limiting reality of community theatre.

The same is true with the production, which impressed in terms of blocking, direction and design, but burdened by completely bare wooden walls that clashed with the colourful 1950s-esque furniture. It was a weird effect, and one that could have been fixed with some wallpaper, but may have been intentional; this would create a sense that all these things and people that Martha and George surrounded themselves with were just a means to fill a void that could never be filled.

It’s the dilemma over the therapeutic effects of alcohol versus its propensity to make you do things you’ll regret that keeps this story relevant. As much as we collectively try to frame it as just another element of catharsis, its necessity to those with nowhere else to turn is counterbalanced and even overpowered by its ability to pervert its consumer’s behaviour throughout Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s brutal to watch, both on a thematic level and on a visceral one — on account of all the close-range shouting — but it’s something that should be seen, especially by millennials.

Whether you rarely drink or drink often, it’s important to come to terms with both its power to help soothe and cause chaos. While reliance may be understandable, dependence an alcohol will only lead to the sort of repression and regret that poisoned George and Martha’s life and had already started to invade the world of Honey and Nick. Such is the power of alcohol.

This was all captured well by the Kitchener-Waterloo Little Theatre troupe and I look forward to what they have to offer in the future.

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