Monday, January 26, 2009

I forgot my keys--a review of "Virginia"

I knew I was going to be late. My miscalculations about subway times, Google’s microscopic map on my phone and the frequency with which I am usually on time (zero.), made me sure that I would be late leaving (forgetting my coat, my keys, my lip balm), have to go back twice, wait forever on a local train, get lost walking five blocks in the wrong direction and probably fall down a couple of times for good measure only to arrive at the Drama Bookshop just as "Virginia" was wrapping up. This did not happen. I was on time and the Bookshop had been situated conveniently, obviously for sillies just like me, so that I could see it from the sidewalk in front of Port Authority.

I have a soft spot for staged readings and workshopped plays. Usually in small spaces, most of these plays don’t even get produced and, for the ones that do, there’s a selfish satisfaction in being able to say, “I saw it first.” It also lets the audience share in the creative exchange happening between the playwright, the writers and the actors. "Virginia" isn’t new at all--it was first produced in 1985-- so there was a different sort of dialogue going on. This one was between the actors, the directors, and Virginia Woolf herself.

With four people and three chairs, the cast of "Virginia" was able to create an entire world. I knew exactly who was who (as some have mentioned before me, two of the actors were multi-cast) and where the characters were. It would have been so easy for the actors with multiple roles to play each the same way and rely on the text of the play to speak for them. Instead, they changed their voices and bodies for each character—the high, tense voice of Virginia’s mother became the sultry flirtatious one of Vita Sackville-West. I could see that everyone had done an incredible amount of research, but especially Kris Lundberg, who had taken up the daunting task of playing Virginia Woolf. I can’t imagine how taxing it would be to play someone so complex—and so real. Everyone knows about Virginia Woolf’s mental illness and suicide, there are expectations, but to go inside her head takes bravery and to do such a character justice takes true talent. Lundberg did an amazing job.

I wish I had more, or anything, to criticize about the performance or direction, but I just don’t. Some of the other reviewers have mentioned that the play didn’t make Virginia, or the audience, choose between Virginia’s love for Leonard and her love for Vita. Virginia loved them equally, but differently. At the Q & A after the show, one of the speakers (probably Dr. Fernald) mentioned that Leonard is probably the reason why Virginia lived for as long as she did. This doesn’t discredit her relationship with Vita who, in the play, seemed to bring out a different side of Virginia—one that was more carefree, but also more reckless.

"Virginia" was a beautiful way to honor Woolf’s birth, and to shed some light on the complexities of Woolf’s life and loves. It gave me a fuller appreciation of Woolf, but also made me desperate to get inside her head, to read all her diaries and letters and novels and to know as much as possible, to get the entire story. I look forward to the day when "Virginia" is made into a full production and I can experience the play in its full glory.

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