I Was Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

Are you familiar with the actress Sally Kellerman? She appeared in the comedic film M*A*S*H directed by Robert Altman as Hot Lips, a nurse who hid her sexuality behind a veneer of prudishness. She had a really appealing charm about her, but lately she hasn’t appeared in anything at all.

I went by myself to a performance of the female-lead play “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” when I lived in Boston for old times’ sake. Often times when you wonder what happened to a certain American actor who hasn’t been in anything for a while, it turns out they’ve been focusing on theater rather than movies.

The play was hard for me to understand. It’s a veritable flood of dialogue full of swear words. But having seen the Elizabeth Taylor movie version and read Albee’s original book, I had a pretty good sense of what was going on. It was at a small theater associated with Harvard University called “The Hasty Pudding.” I took a seat somewhere around the tenth row back from the stage right in the center and waiting for the play to begin. The theater was mostly full.

The play began, but I couldn’t focus on what was happening on stage. I squirmed around on my seat, unable to settle down. I had the strongest sensation that every time Mrs. Kellerman faced out towards the audience during her performance, she was staring directly at me. At first I told myself that I must be mistaken, but the longer it went on the more I realized it was really happening. She stared at me every time she faced out towards the audience. She was speaking directly to me.

I’ve never been a part of a play so I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but maybe some actors pick out someone in the audience as a fixed eyeline. As an acting technique. The audience members around me were all intelligent looking white people, and I was the one Asian guy. It would make a lot of sense if she singled me out right away as her easy to identify “fixed eyeline.”

My brains were like a big pile of noodles being pulled in a thousand directions, and I can’t for the life of me recall how the play actually was. Of course I made way too much out of it. It’s totally possible that Mrs. Kellerman is so nearsighted that she couldn’t tell a black rabbit apart from a bowling ball if she was more than five meters away and that she couldn’t make out my face let alone anything else about me. Regardless, I was restless, and my mind was anywhere but on the play. It was exhausting.

There’s a special vitality to people acting out a play in the flesh, right before your eyes. I’m not a regular theatergoer, but when I do go I get a different kind of thrill than from a movie or a concert. Sometimes it’s an exhausting experience, but hey, it’s just one more memory.