Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? takes the cliché out of marriage

What constitutes a "healthy" marriage? Is it open communication? Is it doing things together? Or perhaps a healthy marriage is simply loving and understanding one another no matter the circumstances.

If the latter is true, then Ernest Lehman’s film production of Edward Albee’s play "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is sure to challenge these "healthy" concepts.

Starring Elizabeth Taylor (1966's Oscar, New York Film Critics, National Board of Review and British Film Academy Best Actress Awards) and Richard Burton (1966 Oscar nominee for Best Actor) as malevolent marrieds George and Martha, "Virginia Woolf" takes us on a psychological, and sometimes morbid, ride through the psyches of two seemingly disgruntled spouses. Throw in a young, newlywed couple, the strapping George Segal (who much later starred as Jack Gallo in the hit show "Just Shoot Me") and "slim-hipped" Sandy Dennis (1966's Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actress) and we’ve got all the fixings for a harsh and realistic drama that is sure to make us rethink our ideals about marriage, and perhaps even human psychology itself.

What is surprisingly fulfilling about this film is the depth of character and intelligent dialogue, as the film takes place primarily in one setting with only four characters. It is through the characters’ rich dialogue that we receive hints as to what lies beneath the surface of these turbulent relationships.

Few films since the 1966 release of "Virginia Woolf" have achieved this high level of depth using such simplistic sets and limited characters. The first two that spring to mind include "Tape" (starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) and "Melvin Goes to Dinner" (starring Michael Blieden).

It is a triumph for any filmmaker to produce a movie that is not only enjoyable but that also helps to reshape and redefine old principles whether they are social, political, or personal. No easy feat. But to do it on a low budget is miraculous!

The film begins as George and Martha walk home in the moonlight from a party at the school where George works for Martha’s father. Quite romantic at first glance, viewers are expected to be caught off guard when the couple arrives home and we first hear the way they speak to one another. Not too charming or courteous, but definitely believable.

It is only after the younger married couple comes over for a "party" that they (and we) are thrown into George and Martha’s destructive path. What comes next is a whirlwind of mind games, a spewing of sadness and disillusionment, and an imposition on the younger couple so huge it just may challenge the way we perceive the union of marriage forever.

To watch the younger couple feed off of George and Martha’s behavior, slowly realizing that not only are they are no better but actually just like them, is like staring into a mirror filled with harsh reality as it reflects all of our deepest fears about ourselves and those we love.

With memorable quotes to fill a book, "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" will leave you terrified to look into your lover’s eyes, while at the same time have you begging for more.

Rare indeed it is to experience a film so brutally honest, morbidly funny, and psychologically taut, but fear not the inspiration of self-reflective pondering. For it’s all merely "blood under the bridge."

You can rent this film masterpiece locally at Outloud! Books and Gifts on Church Street.

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