Martha Deserves a Better Avenger

Leslie Nielsen did it for years, and after him the Wayans Brothers: take an image or scene from popular culture, then repeat it in a sillier context.  In The Man Who Knew Too Little, for example, it’s Bill Murray saying “Here’s Johnny!” instead of Jack Nicholson, and he’s wielding a croquet mallet rather than an axe.  The joke, I suppose, goes something like this: “Remember that other movie?”

Kate Scelsa’s Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf works more or less along the same lines.  It is the Scary Movie of postwar American theater.  Now George (Vin Knight) walks in and says, “What a dump!” instead of Martha.  And Martha?  Martha (Annie McNamara) sings, “I’m totes cool with Virginia Woolf.”  If this is your idea of a laugh riot, you’re in luck.  If you find it lazy, unimaginative, and frankly offensive in its sheer stupidity, you’re in for a long 75 minutes.

To be fair, at around the halfway mark, Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf transitions from parody to polemic, with Martha attacking gay male writers who failed to properly write women.  Thus, “Tennessee Williams was a pathetic alcoholic who projected his own victim complex and internalized shame about his sexuality onto totally unrealistic depictions of hysterical women.”  Fair enough, I suppose, though it seems to me an ungenerous take on someone who was hardly sitting content atop the patriarchy.  It’s not quite punching down, but it’s not punching up, either.

It’s also not drama.  It’s an essay transplanted into the mouths of characters.  What a dump, indeed.

Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf runs through June 30th at the Abrons Art Center.  466 Grand Street  New York, NY.  1 hour 15 minutes.  No intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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