Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Changes in Broadway Revivals Lessen the Drama

Carrie Coon, Tracey Letts, Amy Morton, and Madison Dirks
in the current B'way revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Credit: Michael Brosliow 
Two major Broadway revivals have slight alterations in their scripts which result in softening their more ferocious characters and lessening the impact of the productions. In Pam McKinnon's staging of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, there is the fairly expected cut in the second act. The lights go down after Martha and Nick go off to the kitchen to copulate, leavening an enraged George, Martha's husband, to declare, "I'm going to get you for this, Martha." In the 1962 original, there is an additional scene between George and Honey, Nick's drunken wife, in which reveals-- SPOILER ALERT--he plans to kill off his and Martha's imaginary son (Hope I'm not ruining anything, but the play is 50 years old and you should know this by now.)   It's understandable, Virginia Woolf is VERY long and the cut scene doesn't significantly add to our understanding of the characters; Honey does get a bit more stage time, but that's the scene's biggest plus. This cut obviously has Edward Albee's approval and was used in the 2005 revival with Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner.

The really significant change comes earlier in the second act when Martha humiliates George in front of their guests by repeating her father's long-ago threat to fire George from the university if he publishes a potentially scandalous novel about a young man who accidentally kills his parents.In the original and the 1966 movie version with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Martha's coup de grace is to reveal that her husband told his father-in-law the novel is autobiographical, thus exposing the truth about a similar story George has earlier told Nick in private. In this new revival, Albee has rewritten this sequence to make Martha explicitly angry with George for caving in to her father and burning the manuscript. "Coward," she screams at her husband. This change makes Martha more conventionally sympathetic--she's not out to just embarrass George, she's furious that he's so weak-willed and furious with herself for loving him. I think this change weakens the play somewhat because I don't think Martha would be so self-aware at this point in the action. The war between George and Martha is at its midway point and Martha has not yet hit rock bottom in her self-realization (that comes in the third act). Now it's too early for that and the battle is less intense as a result. This is still a powerful production, but I prefer the original dialogue in this section.

Al Pacino and Bobby Cannavale in Glengarry Glen Ross
Credit: Scott Landis
In the just opened Glengarry Glen Ross, director Daniel Sullivan and star Al Pacino have shifted the focus to Shelley Levine, the broken down salesman played by Robert Prosky (original Broadway production), Jack Lemmon (movie version), and Alan Alda (2005 revival). Here's a link to me review for ArtsinNY.com. Aside from Sullivan's staging which often places Pacino squarely center stage, I'm almost positive there have been subtle changes in the script. In the original, Levine mentions his daughter once in a bid for sympathy from the office manager Williamson. Here, she comes up a total of three times, thus giving Levine more of a family background and hopefully gaining more audience sympathy. In the original production, I recall a line that Ricky Roma (a slick Bobby Cannavale in this revival) delivers at the end of the play in which he demands a cut of all the office's sales. This has been cut, I guess to make Roma less of a shark and more human. Just as Martha is less of a ferocious fighter in the new production, Mamet's salesmen are not quite as predatory and dangerous.

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