The Set of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
For a play as drastically depressing and oppressive as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the set needs to augment the mood as much as possible. Albee’s play calls for several props, and all of these have to be provided, but more than that, the set needs to look as real as possible, to show that these people are not vastly different from the rest of us. And because in that fact the true horror of the play resides the set is all-important. Luckily, the performance featured a realistic, intricate, close set.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is set in an ordinary 1950s New England suburban house. Nothing is overly expensive or glamorous. But in plays, designers typically want things to catch the eye, even though in this instance such would ruin the mood. The set designers captured this mood perfectly. Nothing is anachronistic. The set even lacks a coherent color scheme; but why would there be? In most houses, walls are painted and papered, carpet is put down, but, twenty years later, these same walls are decorated with paintings and the floors are covered with rugs and furniture that would not have even been considered in the inception. The set of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? shows this hodgepodge perfectly. Above the set, the eaves of the house, and the roof of another house are clearly seen, providing, again, a voyeuristic view of the play’s events. Such realism creates a believable mood for the play, heightening the effect that these things are actually happening (heightened still more with Albee’s back-and-forth style of dialog), leaving the viewer acting as a voyeur, but also identifying closely with the characters.
The realism in the set design is even more impressive when one realizes the intricacy of the set. There are books on bookshelves, but not the standard encyclopedia prop, where every book looks the same, or maybe three basic book formats. The bookcases are filled with odd, non-matching, non-sequential books, none of which look new. Practically the entire set seems lived-in, as if the furnishings once belonged to a real house, or the actors actually lived on the set between rehearsals. Also heightening the realism, while many plays attempt to show an idealized household, with everything cleaned up and in order, clutter is truly and realistically shown, as it would be in a real house. George and Martha had been at a party all night—Saturday night—and were not expecting guests. As such, there are half-finished drinks on end tables and coffee tables and...