May Flowers blooming daily in the afternoons…
Andrew here to start things off. It only makes sense that the melancholic showers of Anna Karenina and The Truman Show would give root to the gloomy blossoms which open May Flowers this year. Connotatively you’d expect flowers to be a symbol of good things – life, hope, colour. But, not so in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In Nichols’ adaptation of Edward Albee’s play it’s just another thing in a long line of objects which sparring couple George and Martha use to play games. Who cares about the danger of confusing truth and illusion when there are so many games to play?
What is it about celebrated American playwrights turning flowers from lovely things into sinister symbols? The “flores para los muertos” line which opens this flower scene harks back to the selfsame utterance in Tennessee’s A Streetcar Named Desire where Blanche du Bois has a breakdown. I wonder if the use of the line is a deliberate send-up, by Albee, to Tennessee. In the battle of delusional on-screen ladies one between Blanche and Martha would surely be a fight to the death.
And, the flowers come down to reveal mordant George, ready to play a new game – even if the other players can’t keep up. Sure, all the four actors in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf are excellent, the film easily wins for best cinematic quartet ever for me, but Burton towers towers above them all. He gives what may well be my favourite male cinematic performance. It’s such a difficult role, moving through so many emotions – so many of them deliberately affected. Of course, George is hiding behind illusions, too. He knows his wife has just slept with his colleague but he presents the flowers at the door and feigned belief that Nick is their lost son (“He’s been acting awful funny if he is,” quips Martha) leading into a bizarre affected bequeathing of the flowers to Martha. Nick watches on disgusted and confused; Segal is so good playing affable but smarmy.
George: “Martha. I, uh. Well I brungya dese flowers…’cause I’se….’cause you’se. Aw hell, Martha. Gee.”
Martha: “Pansies! Rosemary! Violence! My wedding bouquet.”
Delightful. These two do love their games.
I’m never sure if inebriated Martha says violence for violets by mistake or if Albee (through Martha) is making a deliberate reference to the debauchery at play in this evening-to-morning drinking party. Even in this very incidental way the scene is another example of how in sync this couple is. Martha is as willing to continue the games which George begins and vice-versa. No wonder Nick cannot keep up. Still, it’s a shame such a lovely bouquet of flowers (which George walked all the way to Dean’s house to pick in the moonlight) with that lovely bequeathing has to be destroyed by these folks.
Dump these in some gin”
George tells Nick. But poor Nick has had enough of grand illusions; the flowers end up on the floor. Moral of the story – all living things get destroyed when they pass through the door of George & Martha.
How fond are you of Burton’s work in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The great Sandy Dennis is not part of this scene but which Woolf thespian wins your best-in-show honours?