Wednesday, January 28, 2009


When I was younger and less ambitious—or just as ambitious but more naïve—I thought of projects like Edna O’Brien’s “Virginia” as derivative donkey work.

Now I see the incredible care and art that goes into creating a script—and, for director Joannie Mackenzie, cutting it—that blends together biography, fiction, essays, diaries, and letters.

Although I’ve known of the show “Virginia,” I’d never seen it before Sunday. It was a really satisfying show. I know Woolf well enough that nothing surprised, but O’Brien and the actors’ spin on familiar material was a real delight. I particularly loved the way Woolf’s haunting story “Lappin and Lapinova,” becomes a metaphor for the Woolfs’ marriage. The story is about a sweet young bride who imagines her husband as a rabbit king. He indulges her, and the nightly fairy tale becomes a path to intimacy. Then, he tires of the story and asks her to stop it. The story has one of the best final lines I know:

So that was the end of that marriage.

Hearing that story alluded to at Sunday’s staged reading in the basement of the Drama Book Shop was deeply moving.

Kris Lundberg, founder of the new Woolfian Shakespeare’s Sister Company, played Woolf. She managed to show the full complexity of Woolf’s character: the grief, the joy, the complex sexuality, mental illness, humor, coyness, sharpness, and wisdom.

Shelley Ray and David McCamish had smaller roles, but other kinds of challenges: without costume changes, each had to portray several characters (Leslie Stephen & Leonard Woolf; Julia Stephen, Vanessa Bell, and Vita Sackville-West). There was a moment at the beginning of the show where Virginia describes her mother as “beautiful, gracious, and afraid” or a similar trio and the slight twitch in her face on the beat of “afraid” was just perfect.

I do fear a little that the show tends to being not adventurous enough, too pious, too honorific.

But it’s deeply moving and very fair. It did avoid all the many, many painful ways that depictions of Woolf seem to go astray and it really moved my students. In all, those are very, very good things.

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