Friday, September 28, 2012

Broadway: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Amy Morton and Tracy Letts in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?  Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Coming on the heels of successful runs in Washington D.C. and Chicago, Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s terrific revival of Edward Albee’s classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? will be opening officially at the Booth Theatre in New York on October 13, 2012 – just 50 years to the day after it first opened on Broadway.  The original production starred Arthur Hill and Uta Hagen as George and Martha; a 1976 revival featured Ben Gazzara and Colleen Dewhurst in the same roles; in 2005, Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner reprised the viciously combative couple; and a film version released in 1966 starred  Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.   We’ve been around long enough and have been fortunate enough to have seen all of those productions – and we very much enjoyed them all.  Assuredly, those were tough acts to follow.  But now that we’ve had the opportunity to see a preview performance of this latest revival starring Tracy Letts and Amy Morton, I can tell you this: this production of this play is as good as any we’ve ever seen before.

Amy Morton, who starred in the Pulitzer Prize and Tony winning August: Osage County and who received a well-deserved Tony nomination for her performance in that play, surely merits a similar nomination for her performance as Martha in this production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Martha is the wife of George, a burnt-out associate professor of history at a small college, and the daughter of the college’s president.  While she plays her role as George’s bitter, shrewish, mentally unbalanced, and emasculating wife in a somewhat lower register than did her predecessors, we mean that as a compliment, not a criticism.  It has allowed her to create an even richer, more nuanced, and more complex character on stage than we have come to expect.  And it has allowed Tracy Letts, the highly regarded Chicago actor who wrote August: Osage County and who is making his Broadway debut here as George, to play his role even more dynamically that had his very talented predecessors.

And Mr. Letts has taken full advantage of that opportunity by turning in a truly powerful performance.  Indeed, if it was Martha who dominated earlier versions of this work, it is George who dominates this one.  Surely that is a credit to Mr. Letts, but it is a credit to Ms. Morton and to Pam MacKinnon, the play’s director, as well.  They all have contributed to what must be deemed a true ensemble success.

Carrie Coon as Honey and Madison Dirks as Nick round out the ensemble cast and do so brilliantly. Nick has just joined the college’s faculty in the biology department and seems to have all the drive that George once may have had but no longer does. (When Martha first married George, both she and her father thought that George someday might succeed his father-in-law as the college’s president but as things now stand, it appears likely that he won’t even make it to the chairmanship of the history department).  Honey is Nick’s mousey wife.

As the daughter of the college’s president, Martha has taken it upon herself to welcome new faculty members and their families – which is why she invited Nick and Honey to her home following her father’s late night faculty reception.  When Nick and Honey arrive after 2 AM, they already have had too much to drink (as have George and Martha) but that doesn’t stop any of them from imbibing even more.  One thing leads to another and the sexual tensions, pent-up emotions, and long held secrets that are released are explosive.  Distinctions between reality and fantasy are increasingly blurred and the inevitable crisis toward which the play has been building is…well, inevitable.

If you’ve never seen Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, don’t miss this opportunity to see this outstanding production of Albee’s masterpiece.  And even if you have seen it, here’s your chance to see it again as you’ve surely never seen it before.

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