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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? A Golden Triumph

FIFTY YEARS AFTER it first opened on Broadway, Edward Albee’s masterful play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is back on Broadway and is pure gold. In this 2nd revival of the famous New England dysfunctional couple, George is played by Tracey Letts, the Pulitzer and Tony-award winning playwright of August: Osage County making his Broadway debut, and Amy Morton, Tony nominee for Osage, stars as his wife, Martha. This production was originally mounted in 2010 by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago and transferred to Broadway in October with the full Steppenwolf cast intact.

George and Martha return home after a party hosted by Martha’s father, the president of a college at which George now serves as an associate professor of history, having been demoted from department chairman. The couple has invited a younger professor and his wife to join them for cocktails at their home, despite the later hour. Before the couple arrives, we quickly learn the relationship between George and Martha is like oil and water; they bicker, jab and attack each other with each breath they take, and consume a lot of booze. Though never addressed by their names, Nick (Madison Dirks) and Honey (Carrie Coon) show up and are made immediately uncomfortable by the older couple’s behavior fully and unabashedly on display. In the course of the three-hour long play, much is revealed about both couples that constantly changes the dynamics of the relationships, and never for the better.

Early in the night, Martha reminds George of his many failures – some subtle and others raw and cutting. She antagonizes him by overtly making comments about Nick’s good looks and shape. Not to be undone, George retaliates early on (and often), scaring Martha by shooting a fake rifle at her. As the booze flows and Honey gets sick by the brandy she sucks down, the men fine themselves alone. Nick tells George of his wife’s hysterical pregnancy that forced him to marry her. Once the ladies return, George decides to play a game called “Get the Guests” in which he recounts a story that exactly resembles what Nick just told him, embarrassing and upsetting Honey. And it only gets worse. George’s true revenge is getting back at Martha for discussing their son who is to pay his parents a visit. It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and in this game (of the make believe son), George kills him off, completely destroying Martha.

Letts is a tour de force in his portrayal of George. Despite George’s unkempt and rather dumpy presence, Letts has given him an undeniable magnetic charm. We may not like his brutal tactics, but he’s someone to watch. Morton’s brand of fireworks for her Martha is more reserved but equally compelling. She plays on more of Martha’s inner pain rather than full out histrionics, shouting and standing up to George’s cruelty. Dirks is solid as a professional threat to George and a potential playmate for Martha, while trying to comfort his wife and covering his embarrassment for her and about himself. Coons is hilarious as her shy, wallflower is forced to open up the more she drinks. She moves from hysterical to sick to free spirited to devastated to degrees the her other characters may have experienced a lot more in their lives. Pam MacKinnon directs the stellar cast again from the Steppenwolf transfer, and adds some surprising tender moments, much in line with the sense of uneasiness that prevails throughout.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is currently at the Booth Theatre in New York until February 24, 2013. For tickets go to: virginiawoolfbroadway.com

2013-01-03 / Entertainment

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