Kentucky Arts and Culture
50 Years of 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf'
A classic play with a special anniversary takes its place in the spotlight over the next two weekends. The Actors Guild of Lexington performs ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ It wll be performed at 7:30 Fridays and Saturdays and two o clock Sundays at the Actors Guild Theater off Harrodsburg Road.
In a time when there plenty of experimental theater, producer Jim Betts believes it’s important to remember classic America theater.
“And I think there is room for some of the older shows, they’ve been around for a while. They’re classics for a reason. And we saw that this was the 50th anniversary of the first production of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ Billy Rose Theater, October 13th 1962,” said Betts.
The play focuses on two couples, one in the midst of a violent argument. The other couple is nearly drawn into the intense infighting. Director Tony Haig, who also chair the drama department at Centre College, his role as helping actors move into unfamiliar territory.
“The character says something or does something that is completely out of the life experience of the actor. My job is to find the nugget in the actor’s mind, and life, and background, and experience that we can explode. In a sense, we’re all the sum of a whole bunch of human motions and human relationships,” said Haig.
Lexington actor Sharon Sikorsky plays the part of Martha. It’s Martha who’s in a major conflict with her husband George. Sikorsky calls it the most challenging role she’s ever played.
“There are so many things that this character has to go through. All kinds of emotions and the motivations for these people are, well, they’re unique. This character is not like me at all. But it’s been really fun finding out about her,” said Sikorsky.
Sikorsky says the play is funny and shocking and includes a lot of sex and violence. Still she says it also can prompt theater goers into some self examination.
“It’s about real human beings. And so hopefully people can find something in these characters that they can relate to and this play has the potential to touch someone very deeply. It’s just a very human play. Yeah, it’s very deep that way,” added Sikorsky.
Director Tony Haig says the long play, about three hours long, takes a number of 90-degree turns. He saw that recently, when a couple of drama students from Centre took in a rehearsal.
“Their faces when they saw what was happening and it just happens in about five lines. Suddenly the whole world turns and there’s a sharp intake of breath. One of the guys, his head just dropped between his knees. He just couldn’t stand it. And the girl, her mouth went open and her eyes went wide and and I’m going yeah that’s exactly the sort of reaction I want from an audience. They’ve lived with these people for the last three hours and everything they thought they’ve known about them has suddenly changed. It’s great theater,” said Haig.
While it’s the 50th anniversary of the first theatrical performance, the first film version came out in 1966, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Given its racy nature, producer Jim Betts says it marked the beginning of today’s movie rating system.
“It was the one that brought into existence G, PG, R and I don’t think PG actually, G, R, and X but this whole new rating, so there gradation of vulgarity that was tolerated, and there were warnings associated with it and this was the catalyst film that brought that into existence,” explained Betts.
When the actors take the stage this Saturday evening, their performance falls exactly fifty years after the very first opening night of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe.”