Fifty years ago Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” took New York by storm establishing him as one of the most original and daring playwrights of his day. This revival by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company which is now playing at the Booth Theatre re-establishes Mr. Albee’s pre-eminence as a great writer who was way ahead of his time. His play is as fresh and vital and vitriolic today as it was fifty years ago.
I saw the original production when I was a naïve eighteen and was very confused as to what was happening, remembering only a lot of shouting and its three hour length. I don’t remember laughing much.
But this vivid and intense production under the superb direction of Pam MacKinnon with an incredibly strong cast brings the text to horrifying life. I guess it’s taken all these years for me to appreciate the beauty of the writing, its dark humor and the ability of its characters to reveal – their dirty laundry – in front of strangers – and hoping that we do not recognize ourselves in such a vile and unsavory situation.
There should not be an empty seat in the house for this heavy duty drama – the war between two pair of spouses going at each other in a nicely frayed and detailed living room designed by Todd Rosenthal in a house on the campus of a supposedly staid New England college circa 1962.
And yet, unfortunately, there were. The theatre going public wants big name stars. A Pacino. A Katie Holmes. This production has cast four exceptional actors and in my opinion they are all stars. Stars that are not yet household names or names that will automatically sell tickets. Nonetheless they are stars. And people should be eagerly standing in line to see them. You will not see a better foursome on the New York stage this season.
From the minute George (Tracy Letts) a college professor and would be novelist and Martha (Amy Morton) his older wife enter the ring – their living room – at 2 a.m. after attending a faculty party (her dad is the President) – the sparing commences.
She, the expert champion of the put down. He, countering her verbal punches with his own sharp and self deprecating jabs. They have each met their match here. And when he warns her to cease you better believe he means it. Their frustration and discontent bubbling over like lava spewing from a volcano, all the while continuing on their drunken bile inducing binge.
It isn’t long before Martha’s guests arrive. A young couple from the party. Newcomers, who bring their own set of baggage along for the bumpy ride. Nick (Madison Dirks) a professor and Honey (Carrie Coon – watch her slowly dissolve!). He’s sexy and wants to impress. She is rich, proud of her husband and downs brandy one after another. They soon become the audience for George and Martha’s mind games – Humiliate the Host, Hump the Hostess, Get the Guests and Bringing Up Baby forcing them all to see the heartbreaking truth about themselves and their illusions.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is blistering, brutal and honest theatre at its best and should not be missed. Through February 24th ONLY. And that’s a pity. Please. Rush.
www.virginiawoolfonbroadway.com Photo: Michael Brosilow
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