It’s not often that Virginia Woolf is seen in the theatre. Having only written one play, and a play that is rarely produced at that, Woolf does not seem to inspire much in the way of the dramatic arts. However, in one week I saw two theatre pieces that involved her.
The first one, a staged reading entitled Virginia, based on Virginia Woolf’s life was presented at Drama Books on Woolf’s birthday. The staged reading struck me as a piece that did not really have a real reason for being on the stage. It always bothers me when there is no ‘drama’, or action, happening on stage. This staged reading was case in point. Although it followed Woolf’s life from childhood to her ultimate suicide, it was not something that could not have been another literary form, namely an autobiography. Part of the problem was trying to cover Woolf’s entire life in a 90-minute play. Focusing on one aspect of her life might have been more moving, or even if the play had not gone chronologically. To me, the play felt as though I was merely reading an abbreviated Wikipedia entry about her life. One thing did strike me is the choice for three actors to play all the characters, with one play Woolf the entire show and the others play all the male and female roles. It was certainly interesting to see Woolf’s sister and lover double cast as well as her husband and the brother who abused her sexually.
The second piece was a revival of Woolf’s only play, Freshwater. The play is a farce, first and foremost, and to me, the time when I felt like the cast really got the attitude of the play happened as the Sex Pistols version of “God Save the Queen” blasted during curtain call. The rest of the play, the actors seemed to not really understand that their characters were meant to be ridiculous versions of the actual people and instead seemed more insistent on making them more real and creating a crass physical language. This physical language paid off at many points during the play, but during others, it seemed unnecessary. The one thing that bothered me the most, was that Ellen Page, the youngest character in the show, was being played by the oldest actor on stage. When questioned in class, the dramaturg replied that the director does not see age. This, I feel, is a cop-out. It bothered me that the young lieutenant kept referring to her young beauty in their moments, the decision to leave does not seem as reckless and her through line is essentially the only guiding light for the progression of the show, so why miscast the one crucial character? Other than that, the show was enjoyable. The set, reminiscent of a Victorian drawing room painted to resemble a spring weekend was great. The lighting, however, really did need to go to the next level and take us to ultimate-farce land, rather than simply being naturalistic. All in all, the play is a modest representation of Woolf’s only play, but perhaps, since she wrote it as an inside joke for her friends, maybe it should remain that way.