The Carol Burnett Show’s fabled movie parodies lasted from 10 to 20 minutes in length and were often memorably hilarious. Benny Hill did a wicked takeoff on his television show where he portrayed both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton that runs four minutes. Mel Brooks for the screen and Charles Ludlum and Charles Busch for the stage all created celebrated full-length pastiches of various genres with comic affection. Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf clocks in at a numbing and unfunny 70 minutes and is decidedly not in those leagues. Rather than reimagining Ibsen’s classic, Lucas Hnath crafted the cheeky sequel A Doll’s House, Part 2.
“I just happen to hold all of my meetings in my vagina” is a retort by Martha and a prime example of playwright Kate Scelsa’s wit.
Ms. Scelsa smugly offers an exaggerated retread that also lampoons Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Hendrik Ibsen to no great effect. Musings on Woody Allen are lamely tossed in as well. Scelsa’s dialogue is a careful simulation of the original’s without much actual quotation. The
program lists the precious renaming of the characters as George Washington, Martha Washington, Nick Sloane and Honey Sloane.
Scelsa has stated that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of her favorite plays of all time and that a goal of this “questioning homage” laced with feminist concerns is to reexamine Martha through “a different lens” that seeks to redeem her from “destruction.” The result is nowhere as lofty as these intentions.
We’re in a cluttered, book-lined and messy living room and kitchen as in the Albee play. George is still a professor but not of history, now of literature specializing in Tennessee Williams and Martha is still blowzy. Nick is now an author of slash fiction and Honey’s daffiness is countered with causticness. Scelsa follows the template of heavy drinking, arguing, the imaginary son, Honey’s hysterical pregnancy, and philosophizing, adding her own stamp.
After about an hour, there’s a rumbling onstage cataclysm as we’re transported to purgatory. George, in a wacky outfit is tormented by a new fifth character. She is a PhD student who is a fang-baring vampire wearing a Dracula cape and spouting academic jargon. George sings “The Second Time Around” and a large robot wheels around. That’s all folks!
This all may have made for a campy late-night diversion at an East Village night club in the early 1980’s but as a full-fledged contemporary theater piece it is woefully negligible. Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf is presented by the theater company Elevator Repair Service who are known for their off-beat literary stage adaptations drawn from works by F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway.
Director John Collins’ staging is suitably fast-paced and has a level of professionalism. To say the performances are broad is an understatement.
Replicating Martin Short’s Jiminy Glick character is Vin Knight as George who is excruciating. Gleefully chomping on a chicken leg is the likable Annie McNamara as Martha who channels Elizabeth Taylor with dashes of Katey Sagal’s Peggy Bundy from Married with Children. April Matthis as Honey Mike Iveson as Nick and Lindsay Hockaday as Carmilla are all appropriately two-dimensional in roles that don’t allow them to achieve much impact.
Scenic designer Louisa Thompson’s billowing painted décor panels are the production’s sole amusement. Ben Williams’ sound design and Ryan Seelig’s lighting design both realize the desired madcap tone with strategic obtrusiveness. Kaye Voyce’s costume design duplicates the recognizable images of these iconic characters with artful tweaking.
Perhaps it is coincidental that Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf is being produced after Edward Albee’s death at the age of 88 on September 16, 2016. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the use of copyrighted material in parody is necessary, acceptable, and legal. Still, it is difficult to imagine that Mr. Albee who was renowned for his prickly protectiveness of his works would not have reacted publicly to this hollow meta exercise that is a complete waste of time.
Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf (extended through June 30, 2018)
Elevator Repair Service
Abrons Arts Center, 466 Grand Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.elevator.org
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission