(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is regarded as Albee’s most successfully realized play. It premiered on October 13, 1962, and ran for 664 performances. The original cast starred Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, George Grizzard, and Melinda Dillon and was directed by Alan Schneider, who has been closely associated with staging Albee’s work on the New York stage. Audiences and critics alike enthusiastically received the play. The play won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Antoinette Perry Award (Tony), and the Foreign Press Award. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? caused a sensational controversy when it did not win the Pulitzer Prize as well. Two distinguished members of the Pulitzer committee resigned in protest. Albee subsequently won two Pulitzer Prizes, for A Delicate Balance and Seascape.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was Albee’s first full-length original play. It represents a departure for him, not only in form but also in focus. In his earlier work, Albee stood outside society and vented his anger as an outraged social commentator whose passionate concern for justice and equality made him side with society’s victims. He had been a champion of the lonely and oppressed. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Albee shifts his concern from the have-nots to the haves—in this case, college professors. They represent the core of civilized society (they educate their country’s future leaders), and what he discovers there is perverse, cruel, hypocritical, immoral, and sterile.

Albee’s play has little or no plot, but it moves forward rapidly. It has four characters: two married couples, with husbands teaching at the same small college. Martha is...

(The entire section is 711 words.)