Responding to Howard Sherman and David Dower's conversation last week about the lack of reporting on Arena Stage's involvement with Virginia Woolf, I wrote this for Bullett.
The current revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf opened on October 13th, the fiftieth anniversary of the show's Broadway debut, and has been greeted with the kind of praise usually reserved for Derek Jeter. Although credited as the brainchild of Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, where the production first appeared in 2010, the show was in fact a collaboration between the Chicago outfit and Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage.
Woolf played Arena in the spring, as part of an Edward Albee festival that marked the decades-old theater's first season in their new home, the stately Mead Center for American Theater. Certain thoughtful members of the New York theater scene have complained that, as far as credit for the production goes, Arena has gotten stiffed. To right that wrong, we at Bullett put in a call to Edgar Dobie, executive director at Arena Stage.
Tell me about this production's trip from Chicago, to D.C., to New York. How did it wind up at Arena Stage?
We produced Virginia Woolf as part of the Edward Albee festival, so for us it had a huge arc, and was a really important moment for the theater. Edward is one of those authors who's involved, and who has absolute right of approval around things like selection of director and casting. Some authors don't work that way. They write it and allow it to be interpreted whatever way you want. Albee was involved in approving Pam MacKinnon as a director, and he was here for rehearsals and saw the show several times.
Pam's dream cast was [Steppenwolf ensemble members] Tracy Letts and Amy Morton, so that led to reaching out to Martha Lavey and David Hawkanson, at Steppenwolf. We discovered they had wanted to do Albee's work, and that they just hadn't done it because they couldn't reconcile Edward Albee's way of needing to approve everything with their ensemble format. What we offered was a director, Pam MacKinnon, who they wanted to work with. The vision of the author and the director began to fit like a glove.
The play was very much carefully and lovingly produced at Steppenwolf, but the spark and the opportunity for it, from our perspective, originated here. We're happy to share it.
And if anybody else needs some reporting done, just tweet about it. I'm like a superhero who doesn't have any powers but knows how to make phone calls.