No other work of art has so beautifully captured the potential tragicomedy that occurs when people continue to gather late into the night after the parties have ended, bars have closed and a sense of madness permeates the air. Even Mike Nichols’ opening credits, which show the dark campus grounds our characters reside on, reveal the terror that exists within the confines of domestic life. It was supposed be the ideal, and playwright Edward Albee has something to say about that.
In “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, Taylor plays Martha, a professor’s wife and dean’s daughter who engages in a nearly three-hour argument with her husband, George (Richard Burton). The entire play (and its film adaptation) is essentially corrupt foreplay between two lost souls. When two colleagues come over for a late-night cognac, Martha and George savor the new audience and take things even further. When discussing their invisible son, the audience is forced to wonder if the child is real or if it’s all part of the mind games between George and Martha, who only seem able to survive if they torture each other. .
As Martha, Elizabeth Taylor is unbeatable. She never stops working, even when chewing chicken bones or playing with her ice cream. She gained weight for the role and wore heavy makeup. She was not trying to be beautiful. She knew Martha had a horror in her, an almost Baby Jane Hudson quality (which makes it even funnier when Martha impersonates Bette Davis at the start of the movie). Despite the brutality she exudes, however, Taylor still delivers plenty of pathos in the final minutes, when the audience begins to fully comprehend the horror they’ve just witnessed and the hangover begins to set in.