Theater Review - Who's Afraid of Virginia... (NY)

Fun and Games and lots of liquor!

There is no finer production on Broadway right now than Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company's “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Edward Albee's dark comedy, a dissection of married life, is fifty years old and fifty years young.  It has been seven years since the last revival starring Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin. While that was passionate and pulsing; this, directed by Pam MacKinnon, is intelligently-paced, incisively-shaped, and ultimately devastating, cutting to the bone. 

The main coupleare called George and Martha, the same names you may notice as the Washingtons!  Here, Tracy Letts, an actor, who won a Pulitzer Prize and every other top award for his meaty 2008 play, “August: Osage County,” gives the kind of naturally brilliant and courageous performance you could only hope for as the beleaguered and badgering husband, George. As Martha, Amy Morton, magnificently earthy, who received a Tony nomination for her role as Barbara Fordham in “August: Osage County,” matches him word for word, barb for barb. Six years younger than her husband, she's the college president's daughter with no particular power. She is disappointed with George, an associate history professor who was groomed for leadership but hasn't been able to take it.  They are obviously still in love, but life together is a kind of Hell. Between drinks, far too numerous to count, they heap abuse upon each other without surcease.

Into their large book-piled house, which Martha calls a “dump,” designed by Todd Rosenthal and comfortably lit by Allen Lee Hughes, comes a young couple, Nick and Honey; they are new to the New England school. He's a biologist and she is a sickly young thing, who spends a lot of time vomiting (thank goodness not on stage.) Carrie Coon, a terrible name for an actress, steals the show as Honey.  Slim and blond, Carrie Coon becomes this neurasthenic young woman, who has married under false pretenses.  Madison Dirks is fine as the young, competitive Nick who will do anything to get to the top.

All four invent stories about themselves that are not true, an illusory trick that Albee is saying that we all do. Of course, there are extremes here that highlight the theatricality of the piece. 

The most touching and terrible scenes occur when George and Martha discuss their son, who does not exist, but about whom they have created a full life.  George punishes Martha for mentioning him by killing him off.  The cast, costumed by Nan Cibula-Jenkins—Martha changes her interesting outfits often—from an elegant dress to slacks and tops-- is perfectly chosen by Steppenwolf's Casting Director, Erica Daniels.

“Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”  in a limited run thru February 24, 2013 is the play to see at the Booth Theatre.   

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