Yesterday, I traveled down to The Drama Book Shop on 40th Street without any idea of what to expect from a staged reading of “Virginia.” What I saw was a small theatre, three chairs, and three people; what I experienced was something entirely amazing.
In a small space inside the basement of a book shop, I watched three talented actors (not to mention one awesome English professor) bring Virginia Woolf to life on her 127th birthday. Because there was no use of props or scenery, everything was stripped down to just the words, the actors, and the audience. For me, this made the experience particularly special because I had never gone to a staged reading before. I was impressed by the talent of the actors, because they unfailingly held my attention and created Woolf’s world for me with just their voices and actions. Two of the actors played multiple roles, but it was never confusing; it was easy to follow the transformation into each individual character.
What I found to be most intriguing about the event was that it made Virginia Woolf a real person in my mind. She isn’t just a dead literary genius, separate and apart from us, only to be found within the pages of her novels. I got the feeling that Virginia Woolf was just like me (granted, a more intelligent, worldly, and impressive version of me) and the people sitting next to me because we share the commonality of being human; of making mistakes and getting disappointed and feeling insecure. During the Q&A session, the topic of Woolf’s sexuality was brought up because—to borrow a phrase from Professor Fernald—there was “no vote taken” in terms of whether Woolf was a straight woman or a lesbian within the context of the play. Rather, she was just a person who loved different people for different reasons, and neither love was dishonoring another. This complication is not unique to Virginia Woolf—but to the people in her life as well, like Leonard Woolf. Well...I mean in the sense that he was a complex person too, not that he was possibly a lesbian.
What I mean to say is that people can argue over whether Virginia Woolf was heterosexual, or whether Leonard was a disciplinarian, or whether Woolf’s father was a cold, unfeeling Victorian. But essentially, what “Virginia” shows is that every person can seem one way, and just when you think you have them figured out they can change completely—perhaps within a single line of speech. When watching the performance, there were times when Woolf seemed absolutely crazy, but then she could have a conversation that made absolute sense; Leonard could seem like a bit of a control freak, but there were many instances where he proved to be a very nurturing person; Vita seemed not to have a care in the world and in turn, not to care about anyone, but it is evident from the end of her relationship with Virginia Woolf that Vita loved her and needed her.
This kind of complexity is found within all people, and the fact that we share this can serve to unite the brilliant writer with the common readers.