Joe Canuso on Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Tue, 03/24/2015

Joe Canuso on directing Virginia Woolf and it's relevance 50 years after its first production.

Whenever I count my blessings, I am always grateful that I am in a
position where I can do the projects that I've always dreamed of
doing. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was always something that was
very high up on that list. But, I put it off for many years because I
wasn't sure I was ready to tackle it yet, and because I wanted to make
sure I had the right actors who could pull it off. And then, once I
decided I was ready, it took two years to finally obtain the rights.

After a torturous process to get Mr. Albee to let us do his play, I
finally had the rights, and I thought ...."oh shit, now I have to pull
this off". Luckily, I am at a point in my life where I don't want to
do anything artistically that doesn't either scare me or challenge me
in some new way. This play does both.

As soon as we announced that we were going to produce the play I got
the inevitable questions...."why do you want to do this play?"..."Is
this an Exile play?"...And, "does this play still have relevance
today?" All really good questions, and truthfully questions that I ask
myself whenever I direct a play. Let me just say that if any play can
be termed an "Exile" play then this is the granddaddy of them all. The
plays we choose are "messy" in the best sense of the word. They are
not easily defined and they are not neatly tied up with
happily-ever-after endings. They don't propose to tell you how to live
your life and they don't provide you with easy answers. What they do
is ask a lot of questions and they leave it to you to make sense of it
all. They are "provocative" in the best sense of the word. They
provoke strong visceral reactions. And they provoke thought and
discussion. They send you out into the night trying to make sense of
this maddeningly, mysterious world we live in.

I also love directing plays with juicy, meaty roles for actors. I love
hearing an actor say" I would give my (fill in the body part) to play
that character on stage". Well, I believe that we have been able to
provide that at Exile. And there aren't four more juicy and meaty
roles then George and Martha, and Nick and Honey. There is so much
passion in this play and I can't wait to tear into it.

As far as being relevant today, I think it is just as powerful and
resonant as it was when it came out 50 years ago. In fact, now that we
have gotten past all of the controversy about the language and the
sexual references that took up a lot of the conversation back then, we
can really see what Albee was trying to say. And make no mistake... It
is an American Play and he was writing about the imperfect state of
America at the time. And it's not just the fact that the main
characters are named George and Martha. He was writing about where the
country was in 1962 and how hollow the idea of The American Dream was.

There was a sense of unease in the country. We were not standing on
solid ground because the ideals and the assumptions of the Fifties
were turning out to be a facade. Well, things go in cycles and we seem
to be in a similar cycle since the shock of 9/11. Again the ground
beneath our feet seems to be shifting. Again we are questioning who we
are, and our role in the world. Terrorism is rampant.

Drone strikes make us question our moral superiority. Our sense of
privacy has been undermined. Our government is in paralysis and we
have lost faith in it. And we now distrust everyone...including the
police and foreigners. How do we make sense of it all?  Well, the first
step is to tear down the facade and face it head on. That is the power
of this play.

And that is just on the subconscious level of the play. What we also
have is a play that is joyous in its displays of verbal wit. It
demands much of its actors and much of its audience and manages to
kick you in the gut just as you are laughing the hardest.

As I said.....I am counting my blessings.