Pictured: “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” now playing./
Martha and George have a problem: after 30 years together, their marriage is drowning. It’s drowning in a bog of arguments and insults, of bitterness and frustration, of regret and loathing.
It’s also drowning in a lot of alcohol. When the two return soused from a faculty party at 2 a.m., that much is obvious. What’s also obvious is that they’re headed for a major meltdown, one that will take the rest of the night.
Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre Creative Director, and the show’s director, Shira Dubrovner said she wanted to do this play because of playwright Edward Albee’s razor-sharp dialogue, but also because it’s a deliciously challenging piece for both actor and director. And it is, as you can see this weekend and next during the show’s two-weekend run.
“Every director has a bucket list of sorts and ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ is a genuine theatre classic that presents a huge challenge,” Dubrovner said. “I’m approaching this production very differently. It requires a very intense rehearsal process so that the humanity of the characters comes through. It’s important that the audience see the pain under the surface of humor and insults.”
For the uninitiated, the play’s title is a reference to English novelist Virginia Woolf, an intellectual inside joke that also incorporates “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Walt Disney’s “The Three Little Pigs.” College humor — go figure.
Set in what would appear to be the early 1960s, as the play opens, we learn that George is an associate professor of history at Carthage College, a small New England institution, and Martha is the daughter of the college’s president. Martha has invited a young married couple she met at the party — Nick, a biology professor (Martha’s convinced he’s a math professor) and his young wife Honey — over for a nightcap.
While the verbal pyrotechnics have already started by the time Nick and Honey arrive, it quickly escalates, embarrassing the guests, but also captivating them somehow, as they opt to stick around for more and more.
Albee is said to have based Martha’s and George’s conflict on the volatile relationship of New York socialites Willard Maas and Marie Menken. As the play goes along, though, one thing becomes clear: it’s not just Martha and George who have issues. While Honey and Nick talk with Martha and George, their own skeletons come out of the closets.
The stage version isn’t one you see all the time, so most of us are probably more familiar with the 1966 film version. Directed by Mike Nichols, it starred Elizabeth Taylor as Martha, Richard Burton as George, George Segal as Nick and Sandy Dennis as Honey.
But what makes Dubrovner’s version of “Virginia Woolf” so interesting is that the actors bring their own characterizations to it. Playing Martha, veteran Juliana Olinka brings Taylor’s energy and fire, but if anything seems to tap more of Anne Bancroft in her interpretation. As the passive-aggressive George, Kevin Worden brings a terrific Walter Matthau-esque quality to his performance.
Nick, played by Drew Foster, comes across as a bit understated and reserved at first, but Foster opens him up eloquently as things progress. And Lauren Patridge is lovely and delightful as the seemingly simple, but deceptively complex Honey.
Dubrovner’s direction is a dream, working with the actors so smoothly that their delivery comes across as completely natural, witty repartee, yet beyond the surface pleasantries, we know barbed wire awaits!
The play is filled with intensity, but Albee’s humor and cultural references help lighten things somewhat. A warning, though, with some pretty adult subject matter and language, parental discretion is strongly advised.
Costumes and sets are perfectly period. Indeed this set, with its brown and off-primary color scheme, and set decor to accent Martha and George’s muddled marriage, could be one of Dubrovner’s all time best.
Don’t be afraid of “Virginia Woolf.” My guess is you’ll take to it in a “Snap!”
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” plays through April 21, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. Tickets: $20 Adults; $18 Seniors and students; not recommended for children under 16. Tickets avialable at www.Edisontheatre.org. Group rates available for 12 or more. Info/RSVP: 760.934.6592.
(Photo: Bluebird Imaging)