Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Based on Edward Albee’s play and directed by Mike Nichols, late at night a middle-aged couple plays complicated psychological games with each other and a younger couple.
At night Martha (Elizabeth Taylor) and George (Richard Burton) come out of an old mansion and walk to their old house. Martha looks around and says, “What a dump!” and, imitating Bette Davis, asks George what movie it is from. George says he does not know. She tells him about the movie with Joseph Cotton in which Bette Davis gets peritonitis. Martha says she is discontent. George says he is tired and does not like going to the Saturday night orgies. She says he never does anything, and he asks if she wants him to go around braying like her. She says she does not bray. She asks him to fix her a drink, and he asks if she has had enough. She says they have guests coming over.
They go upstairs, and she says he is in the math department. She says he is young and blond, and he asks if he is good-looking and well built to which she agrees. She says her father told them to be nice to them. George says it is ridiculous. Martha is straightening up by hiding things. George asks where are they and wonders if they went home to get some sleep first. He says she is always springing things on him. He lies down on the bed, and she asks if he is sulking. She crawls on to the bed and climbs on top of him and sings, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” She asks why he is not laughing and says he laughed his head off at the party. She says he makes her puke, and he says that was not a nice thing to say. She sardonically says that she likes his anger. She says he doesn’t have something, and he supplies the word “guts.” She calls him a phrasemaker, and they laugh. They both are on the bed again, and she asks why he never puts ice in her drinks. He says he does but that she chews them up. She says he is going bald, and he says she is too. They laugh. She puts her arm around him and asks for a big, sloppy kiss, but he says not now and gets up, goes downstairs, and pours himself another drink. She follows him and asks why he did not want to kiss her. He says he would get excited and take her by force on the living-room rug. She asks for another drink, and he says she can swill it down. She says she can outdrink him, and he agrees that she wins every abomination award. She says if he existed, she would divorce him. He tells her to stay on her feet because the people are her guests. He tells her to keep her clothes on too. They hear the doorbell, and she shouts, “Party!” They argue over who is to answer the door, and she tells him to get over there. He warns her not to start in on the bit about the kid, and she asks what he takes her for. She says she will start on it if she wants to. He advises against it, and hearing more knocking she tells them to come in and then tells him to get the door. He tells her she has been advised. He says it is nice that some people have manners and do not walk into people’s houses even if they hear a subhuman monster yelling at them from inside.
Martha says, “God damn you” as George opens the door. Martha sees Nick (George Segal) and Honey (Sandy Dennis) and tells them to ignore “old sourpuss” and come on in. Nick says maybe they shouldn’t have come, and Honey says it is late. Martha asks if she is kidding. She and George tell them to throw their coats down anywhere. Martha tells them to come in and sit down, and she calls George “muck-mouth.” He says she is a devil with language. Honey says it is lovely there, and Nick agrees. George sits down too. Nick is holding Honey’s fur and asks who did the painting. George says it was some Greek whom Martha attacked one evening. Nick stands up and tries to describe it, but George tries to give him different words in various combinations, and Honey tells Nick he is being joshed. Nick says he is aware of that. George says it is a representation of the order of Martha’s mind, and they all laugh. Martha tells George to fix them drinks. Honey asks for brandy because she never mixes and never worries. Nick asks for a shot of bourbon if George does not mind. George says he does not think he minds and asks Martha if she wants rubbing alcohol. She says “never mix never worry,” and they laugh.
Martha remembers the joke and sings “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and Honey joins in and says it was so funny. Martha says she nearly busted a gut but says George did not think it was funny at all. George says that Martha thinks if you don’t carry on like a hyena, you’re not having any fun. Honey says she had fun and that it was a wonderful party. She says Martha’s father is wonderful, and Nick agrees. George tells them to believe it and says he is a god. Martha warns him to lay off her father. George says he has been to so many of these faculty parties, and Nick says he appreciated it. He starts to talk about when he was teaching in Kansas, and Honey interrupts and says they had to make their own way. She had to go up to the wives and introduce herself, and it was not nice. Martha puts her hand on Nick’s knee and says that daddy knows how to run things. Nick says he is a remarkable man, and she tells him to bet his sweet life. George tells Honey and Nick that there are easier things in this world, if you are teaching at a university, than being married to the daughter of the president of that university. Martha says it should be an extraordinary opportunity, the chance of a lifetime. Martha says that some men would give their right arm for the chance, but George says the sacrifice is of a more private part of the anatomy. Honey stands up and asks where she can powder her nose. George tells Martha to show her where they keep the “euphemism.” Martha tells Honey she will show her the house, but first she tells George that he burns her up. He tells her not to “shoot her mouth off about you know what,” but she says she will talk about whatever she wants. He tells her to vanish, and the women go upstairs.
George pours another drink for Nick and himself. George says Nick is in the math department, but Nick says no. George gives him the drink and asks him why he decided to be a teacher. Nick says the same things that motivated him, and George asks what they were. Nick says he does not know. George then reminds him of what he said, and Nick says he imagined they were the same. Nick walks away, and George asks if he likes it at the university, and Nick says yes and sits down again. Nick asks George if he has been there a long time. George says forever, even before he married Martha. He speaks of dashed hopes and good intentions—good, better, best, bested. He asks Nick what he thinks of that declension. Nick stands up and does not answer the question. George tells him not to condescend to him and repeats the question. Nick says he really does not know what to say. George repeats what Nick just said, and Nick asks him if he wants to say that it is funny so that he can say no, it is sad, or to say it is sad so that he could say it is funny. He says you can play that game any way you want to. George says that was very good. Nick tries to tell George that he thinks they should go, but George insists he have another drink and takes his glass to the bar. Nick says he and his wife seem to be having something. George interrupts and says they are having nothing; they are merely exercising. He tells him not to pay any attention to them.
George tells him to sit down and talk. Nick says he does not want to get involved in other people’s affairs. George says he will get over that in a small college; musical beds is the faculty sport there. George asks him not to call him sir, and he asks Nick how old he is. He says 28, and George says he is forty-something. He asks if that surprises him, but Nick says he looks fine. George says he has always been lean, and he asks Nick how much he weighs and guesses about 155. Nick nods. George asks if he plays handball, and Nick says not very well. George says then they should play some time. George says Martha is 108 years old; she weighs much more than that. George asks how old his wife is, and he says she is 26. George says Martha is a remarkable woman. Then he says he imagines she weighs about 110 and then explains he means Honey. George says if Nick was married to Martha, he would know what that means; and if George was married to Nick’s wife, he would know what that means. Nick agrees. Nick corrects George and tells him he is a biologist. George says he is going to make trouble by rearranging the “chromozones.” Nick says they are chromosomes. George says he is mistrustful. He asks if we learn anything from history. George says he is in the history department. Martha often reminds him that he is in the department as opposed to “being the history department” in the sense of “running the history department.” George says he does not run the history department, and Nick says he does not run the biology department. George points out he is younger and says later he may run the department. George sits down and puts his arm around Nick. He suggests he is going to rearrange everyone’s genes to make people the same. He suspects they won’t have much music or painting, but they will have a civilization of men like Nick. Cultures and races will vanish, and the ants will take over the world. Nick says he does not know much about biology. George says he knows about history; he knows when he is being threatened. George gets up and says Nick’s wife has slim hips. Nick admits she does. George asks if he has any kids, and Nick says no and asks about George. He says that is for him to know and Nick to find out. George asks him what is the matter, and Nick says they want to wait until they are settled. George asks if he thinks they will be happy there in New Carthage. Nick says they may not stay there forever. George warns him not to let that be known because Martha’s father expects his staff to grow old there and fall in the line of service. He says the old man will not die and says there are rumors that he is over 200 years old. George says there is probably an irony there somewhere, but he is not drunk enough to figure it out.
George shouts to Martha. He wonders what the women talk about when the men are talking and says he would like to find out. Martha is heard asking what he wants. George asks if that is a wonderful sound. He asks Nick how many kids he is going to have and then finishes Nick’s sentence that his wife is slim-hipped. Honey is on the stairs and hears this. Honey says it is a wonderful house and that Martha will be right down after she changes. George learns from her that she is changing her dress and tells Honey that she does not why. Honey goes to Nick who puts his arm around her. Honey tells George that she did not know that he has a son, and she says he will be sixteen tomorrow. George finds out that Martha told her about him. Nick asks if he can get Honey a drink, and George says yes; he will need it as the years go on. Honey asks Nick the time, and he says it is 2:30. She says they should go, and George asks if they are keeping the baby-sitter up. Nick says he told him they didn’t have children. Nick tells Honey they will go soon; but George says they must not because Martha is changing for them. He says they may be there for days, and they are being honored by the daughter of their boss.
George says he will leave vulgar talk to Martha, and she is there and asks what sort of talk. She is wearing a tight blouse with a low neck-line, and George calls it her Sunday chapel outfit. Honey says it is attractive. Martha complains that George was screaming at her, and he says they got lonely for the soft purr of her voice. She uses baby talk to ask him to make her another drink. As George gets the drink, the other three sit down. Martha says Nick got his masters degree when he was only twelve or something. He jokes about it and tells Honey she needn’t have mentioned that. Honey says she is proud of him, and George says he is impressed. George says he wouldn’t be surprised if he took over the history department. Nick corrects him he is in biology, and George says he seems to be preoccupied with history. He laughs at that remark. Martha starts her rap about George not being the head of the department, and George says they went over that while she was getting up. She tells him to keep it clean. Martha laughs with Nick and says George is a bog in the history department. Martha calls George “swampy,” and he asks if he can get her something. She says he can light her cigarette if he wants to. He says no and says a man can only put up with so much before he descends a rung or two on the evolutionary ladder, which is in Nick’s line. He says he will hold her hand and tote her gin bottles out at night so that no one will see them, but he will not light her cigarette. Martha tells Nick she heard he played football. He says he was a quarterback, but he was better at boxing. She lights her cigarette and asks George if he heard that. She says he must have been good at it because his face does not look like it was hit. Honey says he was intercollegiate middle-weight champion. Martha asks if he still has a good body now, and George tells her that decency forbids. She tells him to shut up and asks if he has kept his body. Nick says he works out, and Honey says he has a very firm body. He says once you have it, … and Martha says he will never know when it will come in handy. He was going to say why give it up until you have to. Martha says she agrees, and they both laugh. George mentions her obscenity, and she says that “paunchy” George does not like body talk. She finds out that Nick is still at the middle weight limit. She asks George to tell them about the boxing match they had. George gets angry, stands up, and tells her to tell them as he goes out of the room.
Honey asks if George is all right, and Martha says sure. She says they had a boxing match two years after they were married. As she tells the story, George goes into a storeroom and uncovers a rifle and walks back. Martha tells how George was knocked into a huckleberry bush, and they are laughing. George points the rifle at Martha, and Honey and Nick scream and stand up. When George pulls the trigger, an umbrella opens. The other three laugh. Martha gets him to give her a kiss, and it is a passionate one. He says that is what she is after and asks if they are going to have blue games for the guests. He says everything in its place and time. He says he will get drinks for all and collects their glasses. Honey says she was frightened and asks Martha if she was for a second. Martha is disappointed and says she does not remember. George asks her if she thought he was going to kill her, but she says that is a laugh. He says he might someday. Nick asks where the john is, and Honey tells him not to come back with a gun. Martha says he does not need any fake props. He puts his drink down and goes out, and George says Martha leaves drinks all over the house. George asks Honey if brandy ever gives her a hangover, and she says she never mixes. Honey corrects Martha about the math and says Nick is in biology. Martha says that is better because it is more at the meat of things. Nick comes back, and she tells him to stay “at the meat of things.” George says she is obsessed by that phrase. She says he can take over the history department from there. She says George never will and calls him “swampy. He says that in his mind she is buried in cement up to the nose.
Honey asks when their son is coming home. Martha says she is sorry she brought it up. George tries to get her to say when the little bugger is coming home. She says George speaks disparagingly of him because George has problems. She says his biggest problem about their son is that he is not sure that he is his own kid. He calls her wicked, and she says she told him that she would never conceive with anyone but him. Honey and Nick are uncomfortable with this discussion. George says that Martha is lying because the one thing he is certain of is his partnership in the creation of their blond-eyed, blue-haired son. Martha says that was a pretty speech. She says their son does not have blue hair or blue eyes but green eyes like her. George argues with her, and Martha calls him a floozy. Honey says he can’t be a floozy; Martha is the floozy. Martha tells her to watch herself, and Honey says all right and asks for another “nipper of brandy.” Nick says he thinks she has had enough. She says nonsense, and George gets her another drink. Martha says that George has watery blue eyes. She says her daddy has green eyes, but George says he has tiny red eyes like a white mouse, and he is a mouse. She says he would not say that if he were there. Martha says George is a coward and that he hates her daddy because of his own … inadequacies, George having completed the sentence for her. She says he hit it right on the nose. She says when George came to the history department about 500 years ago, she fell for him. George says she used to howl at him while he was in his room. He could not stand it, and so he married her. He says Martha is a romantic. She agrees and tries to tell how her father thought that George could take over. George keeps interrupting to tell her to stop it, but she keeps going. He tells her that she already sprung a leak about the sprout. If she goes on with this other thing, he warns her. She says she married him, and they had it all planned out that he would take over the history department. Then when her father retired, he would take over for him. She says that was the way it was supposed to be. She asks George if he is getting angry. After a few years her father realized that maybe George did not have it in him. George tells her to stop it, and she refuses. She says George had no push and was a flop. George throws down a bottle, smashing it. She hopes that was an empty bottle because they should not waste liquor on his associate professor’s salary. She says she was stuck with this bog in the history department, and he tells her not to go on. She expected him to be somebody. He starts singing, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and dances with Honey while Martha is shouting. Martha says all right, and Honey says she is going to be sick and runs out. Martha goes after her.
George picks up his drink and walks outside. Nick finds out from Martha that Honey will be okay and sees George outside. Nick pours himself a drink and stands on the porch with a bottle and walks slowly toward George who is sitting on the swing under a tree. Nick tells George that he is sorry and that Honey should not drink because she is frail. George asks about Martha, and Nick says she is going to make some coffee. Nick says she gets sick easily, and George says Martha never gets sick. Nick says he meant his wife. Nick asks if Martha really spends time in a rest home. George says no but that he would if he were her. He isn’t, and so he doesn’t; but he says he would like to because it gets bouncy around there. Nick says he noticed. George asks if Nick’s wife throws up a lot, and he admits that she does. He says she will go on for hours from time to time. George says he can tell time by her. Nick admits that he married her because she was pregnant. He says it was a hysterical pregnancy. He says she blew up, and he married her; then she went down. They laugh.
George says that when he was prep school, they used to go to a gin mill and drink and listen to jazz. He says once a 15-year-old boy, who had killed his mother accidentally with a shot-gun, ordered “bourgon and water.” They all laughed, and others were told and laughed. The boy laughed too, and the joke continued to arouse laughter when people gave their orders. He says they drank free that night and suffered the next day a grown-up’s hangover. He says it was the grandest day of his youth. Nick asks what happened to the boy, and George says he won’t tell him. George says the next summer the boy was driving with his father and swerved to avoid a porcupine and drove into a large tree. He was not killed, but in the hospital they told him that his father was dead. He began to laugh and did not stop until they gave him a drug that caused him to lose consciousness. When he recovered and could be moved, he was put in an asylum. That was thirty years ago. Nick asks if he is still there, and George says that in those thirty years he has not uttered one sound. They both drink and hear something in the house. They realize Martha is making coffee for his wife who goes up and down. Nick says she does not have them anymore. Nick asks if George has any other kids, and he says he has only one boy. George says he is a comfort and a beanbag. Nick asks what, and George shouts the word “beanbag.” Nick says he is not deaf but that he did not understand. George says he did not say that and says he is getting testy. Nick says he is sorry because it is late; he’s been drinking since nine; his wife is vomiting; and a lot of screaming has been going on. George says that he gets testy but tells him not to worry about it. He says anyone who comes there gets testy, and he tells him not to get upset. Nick says he is not upset but admits he is testy. George says he wants to set him straight about something Martha said. They hear Martha, and George calls it “forest sounds.”
Martha calls to them from the porch and says they are having coffee. Nick asks if he should do anything, and she tells him to listen to George’s side of things and bore himself to death. She asks George if he cleaned up the mess he made in there, and she goes back in the house. George sits on the swing and says he has been trying to clean it up for years. George swings back and forth and says that accommodation and adjustment are the order of things. Nick tells him not to put him in the same class. George says Nick married a woman because she was blown up, and Nick says there was more to it. George says sure and bets she had money too. Nick says yes. George gets off the swing and sits on the ground next to Nick and says he hit it. Nick starts to explain, and George says there were other things to compensate. George pours Nick another drink and asks him to tell him about his wife’s money. Nick says no, and George says okay. Nick says his father-in-law was called by God when he was a child and started preaching and baptizing. He traveled and became famous. When he died, he had a lot of money. George asks if it was God’s money; but Nick says he spent God’s money and saved his own. George laughs and says Martha has money because her father’s second wife was a very old lady with warts who was rich. Nick says she was a witch, and they laugh. George says she was a good witch who married the white mouse, and he must have nibbled at her warts because she went up in a puff of smoke very soon. All that was left was a big, fat will. Nick says his father-in-law and the witch should have gotten together because he was a church mouse. They both laugh, and Nick rolls on the grass. Nick says George’s wife never mentioned a step-mother, and George says maybe it isn’t true.
George says he has been drawing him out because he represents a direct threat to him, and he wants to get the goods on him. George says he warned him. Nick says the sneaky, ineffectual types are the worst. George is glad he does not believe him and says that he has history on his side. Nick says that George has history on his side; he has biology on his side. George says he knows the difference and asks if Nick is going to take over the history department too. Nick says he will insinuate himself by finding the weak spots. George says like him. Nick says he will turn into …, and George gives him the word “inevitability.” Nick says he will take over a few courses from older men and then plow a few pertinent wives. George says that is it; until he plows pertinent wives, he is not working. He tells him to plow them all, and Nick laughs. George says the way to a man’s heart and his job is through his wife, and Nick bets that George’s wife has the widest and most inviting avenue on campus, her father being president. George agrees, and Nick says he had better get her into the bushes right away. George agrees again. Nick says he thinks George is almost serious; but George says Nick is serious, and it scares him. Nick says he is kidding and struggles to get up. George offers him some good advice to take it wherever he can get it. Nick tells him to come off it. George warns him there is quicksand there, and he will be dragged down. Nick is walking toward the house and falls down and gets up as George says he is trying to give him a survival kit even though he is smug. George follows him and says he believes everything will work out. He says he tried to reach him. Nick steps on the porch and says that is touching, and he turns and tells him, “Up yours.”
Nick goes in the house and calls to Honey. George comes in and closes the door and says they take the trouble to build a civilization based on principles. He says you build up to where there is something to lose. Then through all the art and music and sensible sounds comes the dies irae, which is “Up yours.” Nick says bravo and claps. Honey thanks him as she is being escorted in from the kitchen by Martha who says they are shaky but on their feet. Honey tells Nick that it was not too bad. Nick has Honey put her fur coat on and says they are leaving. Martha asks George what has been going on. George says he will get the car to take them home.
George is driving them, and Martha asks George to apologize for making her throw up. George denies he did it, and Martha asks if her sexy husband caused it. George says why not because Martha makes him sick. She says that is different. Honey says she throws up on her own without any help. She says she has always done it, and George says like Big Ben. Nick tells him to watch it. Martha says George makes everybody sick and that their son used to throw up a lot. She says it got so bad that when George came into a room, he would start vomiting. George says the real reason why he got sick was because he could not stand Martha fiddling at him all the time. She says he ran away from home six times in one year, and George says it was because she used to corner him. Martha denies that, and George says he used to say that his mother was always coming at him. George thought it was very embarrassing. Nick asks then why is he talking about it. Honey says she wishes she had some brandy because she loves it. George says he used to drink brandy, and Martha says he used to drink “bourgon” too. George tells her to shut up. Nick says something, and Martha asks if George told him about that. George says no; they just danced around for a while. Honey says she loves dancing, and Nick says he did not mean that. Honey says she didn’t think two grown men were dancing. Martha asks if he started in on how he tried to publish a book, and her daddy wouldn’t let him. Nick asks about the book. Honey points out a sign that offers dancing and asks if they can go there. Martha says that is not a bad idea with the right man. She tells George to stop the car and says they are going dancing. George says whatever love wants, and he jams on the brakes.
In the cocktail bar Honey is spinning around while George looks at the juke box. Martha tells him to put one on. George asks if it will be mixed doubles, and Martha says she is not going to dance with George who admits she has a more attractive option. Nick tells twirling Honey she may get sick again, but she says she dances like the wind. George has started a marching song, and Martha tells him to cut it out. He stops the song. Honey is still dancing, and she tells Nick to let her have a good time. She tells him to leave her alone. Martha selects a song, and George asks “angel boobs” if she wants to dance. Nick asks what he called his wife. George and Honey sit and watch as Nick and Martha dance very close. Honey says they dance like they have before. Martha and Nick say they like the way the other moves. They also dance apart. Martha talks about George’s novel and rhymes. She runs into Nick’s arms. She breaks away and tells the story about the boy who killed his mother and father dead. George stands up and tells her to stop it. She goes on about how her father would not let him publish the novel. George goes over and unplugs the jukebox and says the dancing is over. Honey claps and says, “Violence, violence.” Martha says how her father told him that if he published that, he would be out on his ass. George says he will not be made mock of, and Nick mocks that. George says the game is over. Martha says the boy who killed his mother and father claimed it was all an accident. Nick says this is familiar. Martha asks if they want to hear the clincher. As George goes after her, she backs up and says it is not a novel at all but the truth. She says that George said that it happened to him. George grabs her throat with both hands, knocking over a table. As Honey shouts “Violence,” Nick pulls George off Martha and throws him on the floor. George says they will all be quiet now. Martha feels her throat and calls him a murderer.
The bartender appears and asks what is the trouble. George says they were just playing a game, and he gets up and picks up the table. The man says they are closing. George asks for one more round and says they will go after that. The man goes away. George asks Nick if he wants to play hump the hostess, and Honey repeats it. An old lady brings out the drinks and puts them on the table and goes out of the room. George says they can save that one for later. Martha suggests portrait of a man drowning. George says he is not drowning. Honey complains to Nick that he told her to shut up, and he says he is sorry. George says they are finished playing humiliate the host for now, and they don’t want to play hump the hostess yet. So he suggests they play get the guests and calls Martha a book-dropper and child-mentioner. Honey says she does not like these games. George tells the others to be quiet and asks how they shall play this game. He says Martha told them about his first novel, true or false, meaning true or false that it ever existed. He wishes she hadn’t, but that is blood under the bridge. He says what she did not do was to tell them about his second novel. He asks Martha if she knew about that, and she says no. George says it is an allegory about a nice young couple from the Midwest. He is about thirty and is blond and is a scientist and teacher. His mouse is wifey and gargles brandy. Nick objects; but George says this is his game, and Honey says she loves stories. George says that mouse’s father was a holy man who ran a traveling clip joint to take the faithful. Honey says this is familiar, and Nick says no kidding. George says that blondy and his frau come out of the plain states and settled in a town like this one. Nick tells him not to go on, but Honey says she likes familiar stories. George says that blondy was more than a teacher because his ticket said “historical inevitability.” Nick says they don’t have to listen to this and tries to get Honey to get up, but she refuses. George says people could not understand why this pan-Kansas swimming champion was so solicitous of his mouse. Nick says this is not fair, and George says maybe not. George says this mouse tooted brandy and spent time throwing up. She also had money from the golden teeth of the unfaithful, and she was put up with. Martha and Nick tell him to stop, but George goes on with a flashback. George sits down next to Honey and says they got married because the mouse got all puffed up one day and said look at me. Honey says they were married and asks then what. George says the puff went away, and Honey repeats that. Nick tells her that he didn’t mean to. She says he told them and gets up and walks away. Nick goes to her and gives her a hug. She says he couldn’t have told them. George tells Martha that is how you play get the guests. Honey says she is going to be sick and runs out.
Nick tells George he should not have done that because it was cruel, vicious, and damaging. George says she will get over it. Nick says it is damaging to him. George says you have to have a swine to show you where the truffles are. He tells Nick to re-arrange is alliances. Martha tells Nick to put his wife in the car; but Nick says no thanks; they will walk home. George tells him to plan a new strategy. Nick tells George that he will make him regret this. George tells him to clean up the mess. Nick goes out, and Martha tells George he was very good. She says he really fixed it. He says she brings out the best in him. He pays the bill, and they go outside.
In the parking lot George tells Martha that she goes around scarring up the world but does not want anyone else to try it. He says he did it for her because he thought she liked it. He thought she would get excited and that she would run to him with her melons bobbling. Martha says he really screwed up. He says she can humiliate him and tear him to pieces all night; that is all right. She says he can stand it, but he says he cannot. She says he can because he married her for it. He closes the car door and says that is a sick lie. She asks if he still does not know it. She says her arm is tired from whipping him year after year. He says she is deluded, but she says it is not what she wanted. He thought she was on to herself; he didn’t know. She says she is on to herself. He says she is sick, and she says she will show him who is sick. She flails at him, and he holds her arms and tells her to stop it. She backs up and says he is having a field day and that she will finish him before she is through. He asks if she will do it with the quarterback. She says that before she is through with him, he will wish he had died in that car accident. He says she will wish she had never mentioned their son. He is warning her, and she says she is impressed. He warned her not to go too far, and she says she is just beginning. He says he can take her when they are alone because he does not listen, or he sifts everything. He says she has taken a new tack in the last century or two that is too much. He is reconciled to her airing her dirty underthings in public, but she has moved into her fantasy world.
Martha says he is convoluted and talks like he was writing one of his papers. George says he is worried about her mind and will have her committed. She says he is something, and he says he has to find some way to get at her. She says he does not have to do anything because a thousand years has been enough. He asks if she will go quietly then. She asks if he knows what has happened to him. She says the whole arrangement has finally snapped. They could go on when it was manageable. She says you make excuses to yourself, maybe one of you will be dead. Then one day or one night something happens, and it breaks. She says she tried with him. He says she is a monster. She admits she is loud and vulgar, and she wears the pants because someone has to; but she is not a monster. He says she is spoiled, self-indulgent, willful, dirty-minded, and liquor-ridden. She says it snapped, and she will not try to get through to him anymore. She says there was a second when she might have got through to him. They could have cut through the crap, but it’s past. He says that once a month they get misunderstood Martha, the good-hearted girl with kindness that will bloom again. He has believed it more times than he would admit because he does not think he is a sucker. He just does not believe her anymore. He says there is no moment when they could come together. She says he is right because one can’t come together with nothing, and he is nothing. She says she looked at him tonight, and he was not there. She is going to howl it out and will not care what she does. She is going to make the biggest explosion he ever heard. He says if she tries it, he will beat her at her own game. She asks if that is a threat, and he says it is. He warns her to be careful because he will rip her to pieces. She says he does not have the guts. He asks if it is total war. She says it is total and runs to the car and gets in and drives off alone. On the road she stops and picks up Nick and Honey. She makes U-turn and blares the horn as she speeds past George.
George opens the back door of the car in their yard and sees Honey lying on the back seat. He goes in the house and finds the front door bolted. He manages to kick it in and finds Martha’s blouse on the stairs. He laughs and throws it down. He goes out on the front porch and sobs. He sits on the steps and cries. Honey gets out of the car and says she heard bells. She sits next to George and says they woke her up. She asks what time it is, and George tells her not to bother him. She says she was dreaming and was naked. George makes her stand up and tells her to listen to them. He throws her down on the grass, and she says she does not want to have any children. He asks her how she avoids getting pregnant. She tells him to leave her alone. He says her husband is up there, and she wants to know who rang. He gets an idea and says there was a message that their son is dead. He says Martha does not know it, and he tells her not to tell her; he will tell her himself. Honey goes in the house. George talks to himself what he will say to Martha.
Martha is calling for George and asks where everybody is. She has a drink and looks in the car. She opens the door and turns off the turn signal. She tells them to come out from where they are hiding. She calls to George. Nick on the porch says she has gone crazy too. She sits on the steps next to him. He says he found his wife in the bathroom with a brandy bottle, and she winked at him. He asks where her husband is, and she says he vanished. He says they are all nuts. She tells him to relax because he is no better than anyone else. He says he is, but she says he is a flop in some departments.
They go in the house. Nick is sorry she is disappointed and says he has been drinking for ten hours. Martha says they are all flops, and she disgusts herself. She says the only man in her life who made her happy is George. Nick says she must be kidding. She asks if he always deals in appearances. She says George is good to her while she reviles him. He makes her happy; but George and Martha are sad. She will not forgive him. He made the mistake of loving her and must be punished for it. She says some night she will break his back or push him off for good. Nick says he does not think he has any vertebrae attached. She says he does not see what goes on. He says all right, and she gets out more ice and says the stallion is mad. She tells him to answer the door and says he can be houseboy. He says he is no flunky. She says he is ambitious, or he would not have come back there with her. She gives him a bucket of ice and sends him to the door and follows him. He opens the door, and George hides behind flowers. He calls Nick sonny, and Martha says he has been acting funny if he is. George acts like he is shy and gives her the flowers. Nick asks if they don’t mind; but Martha tells him to make her husband a drink. He refuses, and George says he is her houseboy, not his. Martha says he can’t screw because he is too full of booze. She hands the flowers to Nick, and he throws them on the floor. George says he picked them in the moonlight. She says there is no moon because she saw it go down from the bedroom. George says it popped back up. Martha calls it a lie, and Nick says he can’t tell when they are lying. George asks the houseboy if he can tell the difference between truth and illusion. George says if he did not make it in the sack, he is a houseboy. Nick asks Martha to tell George he is not a houseboy, and she does so. George throws flowers at them and calls Nick a stud. Martha asks George if it is truth or illusion to him, and he says snap.
George tells them to sit down for the last game. Then he tells Nick to go get his wife. George tells him to fetch her as if he were a puppy. Nick goes out, and George tells Martha there will be one more game. She says she does not want any more games. He says one more and then beddy-bye. They will climb the stairs. She says no, no more games. He says she is the original game girl. He tells her not to touch him but save herself for the undergraduates. He wants her alert and gets her aroused. She gets angry. Honey comes in hopping like a bunny and laughs. George tells them all to sit down, and he sits on the top of the couch. Honey says she peals labels. George says they all peal labels. He says you have to slosh through the organs to the bone and then get into the marrow. He tells them to take their son. George says he is a nice kid even though Martha washed him in the bath when he was sixteen years old. Martha asks for another drink. Nick says they don’t have to hear it. George asks if he can set the rules, and Nick says no.
George asks Martha to give the recitation. She says he was born sixteen years ago in an easy birth once it was accepted. She was young, and he was healthy. His hair become blond as the sun. She wanted a child and had their child. They raised him, and he had green eyes. She says he loved the sun and was tan. She says he was beautiful and wise and perfect. Honey says she wants a child. Martha says his perfection could not last because of George. She says he took him down like a drowning man. She talks about the failures and laughter. She says the one person she tried to protect amid their dark marriage was their son. George is reciting Latin for a funeral. Honey tells him to stop it, and he asks her why. Nick asks if the game is over, and Honey says it is. George says no. He tells Martha that he has sad news. He says while the two of them were busy, George and Honey were talking. The doorbell rang, and it was a boy from Western Union. Martha asks if it was crazy Billy. George says it was a telegram, and she asks why they did not phone it. George says some have to be delivered. Honey tells him not to do it. George says he is not coming home for his birthday. He says their son is dead. He was killed on a country road when he swerved his car to avoid a porcupine and drove into a large tree. Martha says she will not let him decide this. She goes to George and tries to grab his neck, but Nick holds her from behind. George says there was a car accident, and he is dead. He asks her how she likes it. Martha cries and says he is not dead. Nick says it was not his doing. George says he does not have power over life and death. Martha says he can’t make him die. She asks to see the telegram, and George says he ate it. She spits in his face. Nick criticizes George for making a joke at a time like this. George asks Honey if he ate it, and she says she saw him eat it all down like a good boy. Martha says he will not get away with this. George says she knows the rules, and Nick asks what they are talking about. George says he can kill him if he wants to, and Martha says no. George says yes, and Nick says he thinks he understands this. Martha says he has no right. George says he could do it because she mentioned him to somebody else. She says she forgot. She says he pushed it, but there was no need. He did not have to kill him. George speaks in Latin, and Honey says “Amen.” Martha and Honey are crying. George says it is dawn and that the party is over. Nick asks if they couldn’t have any. George and Martha say they couldn’t. George tells them to go now. Nick stops and starts to say something, but George says goodnight. Nick and Honey leave.
George asks Martha if she wants anything. He says it is time for bed. He asks if she is tired, and she says yes. He says he is too. He says it is Sunday tomorrow. He puts his hand on her shoulder, and she asks if he had to. He says yes. She says she does not know. He says it was time. She says she is cold, and he says it is late. He strokes her hair and says it will be better, maybe. She is not sure. She asks if it will be just them. He asks if she is all right. She says yes and no. He quietly sings, “Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and she says she is. She holds his hand which is on her shoulder.
This entire drama takes place at night as it delves deep into the darkness of the four people’s minds and emotions and complicated relationships. Neither couple has any real children, but both had experiences with a phantom child. Their struggles reflect the conflicts of modern couples and the difficulty of finding a common purpose in a marriage without children. The mental games appear to be both masochistic and sadistic, but they expose their hidden fears and illusions. George and Martha challenge each other and others to keep their lives interesting and meaningful.