Sunday, April 07, 2002

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Actors' Studio)

'WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF' superlative at Actors' Summit

Edward Albee’s play WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? opened on Broadway on October 13, 1962. That same month, the world seemed poised on the edge of a nuclear war when the United States faced off against the Soviet Union over the presence of nuclear weapons on Cuba. Much like the missile crisis, George and Martha, the play’s protagonists, hurl threats, epitaphs, and fight a battle of wills.

Interestingly, though the play is considered to be one of modern America’s classics, the script did not win the Pulitzer Prize. The committee actually selected it as the winner. However, the award is overseen by Columbia University, and the trustees decided that the explicit language, interest in "taboo" subjects, and controversial public reception made it the wrong choice. Nonetheless, it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award and the Tony Award for Best Play that year.

In this era of Jerry Springer and similar television shows which are embraced by the public, the profanity and hateful words between George and Martha that so shocked audiences in the 1960's, now seems commonplace.

The story concerns the relationship between George, a history professor, and his wife, Martha, the daughter of the college’s president. It depicts a series of battle games with escalating stakes upon which George and Martha have built their marriage. The proceedings encompass a young couple, Honey and Nick, who are guests in the house.

Director Neil Thackaberry, in a master stroke of interpretation, decided to pull away from the oft-used device of George and Martha constantly shouting at each other. Instead, using a clue from the script in which the characters comment on the fact that they are “numbed enough,” he chose to have them underplay their lines. This is not to say the venom is not present. Much like snakes, the couple strikes quickly and often, subtly, with deadly results.

Paula Duesing and Tom Fulton’s performances are both astounding and outstanding. They totally understand the nuances of Albee’s lines and live their roles.

Though his lines are effectively delivered, Peter Voinovich doesn’t have the physical presence to play Nick, the young professor who is described as a stallion. In addition, he sometimes feigns feeling with exaggerated facial expressions.

Susanna Hobrath shrilly whines her way through the role of Nick’s wife Honey, making her spaced out rather than pathetic.

Robert Stegmiller’s light and set designs are excellent.

Capsule judgement: Actors’ Summit should be justly proud of their mounting of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. If you like fine modern theatre at its best, see this production.