Theatre Review: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
By Kevin M. O’Toole
Exiting the theatre after attending last Friday’s preview performance of Weston Playhouse Theatre Company’s production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” someone asked whether I found the work entertaining. Certainly, sometimes one simply wishes to be entertained, or perhaps educated or enlightened. Good theatre, however, always must in some way engage us, even if the view is ugly.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opened on Broadway in 1962 and ran for 664 performances. The winner of the Tony Award for Best Play, it became the 1966 acclaimed motion picture starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal and Sandy Dennis. A searing, profane portrait of marital discord, the play was both celebrated and reviled. The show notes made available to Weston attendees include a quote from John Mason Brown, a member of the 1963 Pulitzer Advisory Committee that reversed an earlier decision to tap Albee’s play for that year’s prize for drama. Brown wrote that “although I can’t pretend that “Who’s Afraid” makes for a pleasant evening at the theater, I do know that it presents an unforgettable one.”
The play opens at the home of George and Martha. It is after two in the morning and over a nightcap, the two of them are rehashing the faculty party they just left at the home of Martha’s father, the President of the university. It is then that Martha announces that she has invited another couple, a young biology professor, Nick, and his wife, Honey, to join them. In the script, the first of the play’s three acts is entitled “Fun and Games.” Prior to the show, Director Mike Donahue commented that Albee’s play can be uproariously funny, until it isn’t funny at all.
Albee’s examination of the couples’ relationships leaves no stone unturned, no scab unopened in its search for some version of the truth. Tackling this sort of fare can be daunting, but Weston’s extraordinary cast proved up to the challenge.
As George, a history professor unhappy with his professional and personal lot, Andrew Garman captured George’s drunken ramblings as well as his apparent glee in dispensing barbs to one and all, especially Martha. If Garman’s George sought solace, he found none.
George’s entirely inappropriate behavior is not outdone by Martha, who returns every dig and over the course of the late evening, throws herself at Nick to humiliate her husband. Kathleen McElfresh fully committed to the unsympathetic role of Martha, alternately affectionate and savage. Her Martha killed for sport.
Thrown into this mix are the characters of Nick and Honey. Curiously, neither actor physically matched the descriptions of their characters mentioned several times during the play. Kristin Villanueva, however, provided what levity the play offered as the meek Honey, who ordinarily did not drink but downed several glasses of brandy and blurted out laughter until she didn’t.
As Nick, an up and comer at the university, Jeffrey Omura initially voiced his character’s unease with the awkward situation into which Nick and Honey found themselves. As the evening progressed, however, Omura showed just how venial Nick could be toward his young wife, Martha and George.
Scenic Designer Dane Laffrey elevated the living room of George and Martha by approximately one foot, exposing the underbelly of the stage to no particular end. The simple set of leather sofa, matching armchairs and coffee table, replete with empty cocktail glasses, did facilitate concentration on the characters.
Playwright Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” adheres to Aristotle’s dictum that dramas take place in one locale and in real time. The action onstage occurs between two and five or so in the early morning. Weston’s production ran just over three hours. At the end, actors and audience appeared exhausted by the doings onstage. Indeed, it may not have proven a pleasant evening of theatre, but it was unforgettable. Serious playgoers will want to catch this seldom performed classic.
Performances of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” continue at the Weston Playhouse through September 1. For ticket information, call the WPTC box office at (802) 824-5288 or visit its website at www.westonplayhouse.org.