The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Ave, Albee! Ave Antush!

I know, I know--the late Edward Albee would hate my focusing on his 1962 play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in writing about him, but I'm afraid I can't help it. You see, when I read the play in my Modern American Drama class at Fordham--

--Half a mo. I'm afraid another grace note has to creep in here. You see, the professor for that class, John V. Antush, died at the end of August, and deserves a look in. He was a gentleman who was also a gentle man, and yet he pushed you in class. (I took both Modern American Drama and Modern European Drama with Dr. Antush, so I know what I'm talking about.) For example, in MAD, when we covered Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, he made the almost entirely white class read lengthy extracts of the play. He assigned me to read the sequence in Act III when the African-American Walter Lee Younger is tempted to take the money offered him not to move to a white neighborhood, and practices doing it, "in profoundly anguished imitation of the slow-witted movie stereotype." It was bloody harrowing for me, and I think, the other members of the class. Which, I strongly suspect, was the bloody point. But Dr. Antush also expanded our horizons in more pleasant ways. He arranged for the MAD class to see Talley & Son in its first NYC production, and to participate in a Q-and-A wit the class. I've never known anyone more in love with the theater's ability to bring empathy and to open new vistas.

--but I digress. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? blew my mind in college, sufficiently so that when I got the chance to do my first show as a director, that's what I picked. The rights fell through, and something else had to be done (a director's workshop, a miscellany of plays with several students directing excerpts from their favorite plays--you know, I'm really much better when helping others to try to realize their ambitions than when playing a lone hand.) But the play held my mind--and my heart (not sentimentally, more in the "did they really do that?" vein. Years later, I saw the Steppenwolf production excerpted up top with good theater buddy Karen Clark, and saw what seems to me almost the platonic idea of Albee's richest (to me) play. Frothy and funny to start, with the laugh lines suddenly becoming cruel, and the jokes no longer funny, and then--Martha and George are wounding each other (and Nick and Honey, as collateral damage) with, to steal a phrase from T.H. White, "words, their cruel bright weapons," which had so lately been funny, now laying waste.

My other Albee highlight was appearing in a student film of The Zoo Story as Peter. It was the last acting I've done, or am likely to do. It was--interesting. Finding Peter, his anxiety and conformity, and being challenged to the character's breaking point--yeah, Albee (and a very gifted student director, and a helluva Jerry) got a good performance out of this uncured (to date) ham.

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