Play: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Group: Muddy Waters Theatre
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 503 North Grand
Dates: November 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22
Story: George and Martha have returned to their home on the campus of the New England university where he teaches following a faculty get-together. It’s September in New Carthage, where they live, and they’ve invited a youthful new professor and his wife to their home afterward for a more intimate acquaintance. When biology teacher Nick and his wife Honey arrive they soon find themselves in the midst of a series of vicious ‘games’ played by their middle-aged hosts.
Martha, daughter of the campus president, ridicules and derides her “flop” of a husband, an associate professor of history whom she considers a washout and a failure. George appears to meekly accept his wife’s scorn but also shows his own adept ability at savage and cruel mockery. As the night progresses, Nick and Honey, immersed in liquor, find that anything and everything is fair game for George and Martha to attack and destroy, including their guests and each other. Most disturbing is a reference to the hosts’ 21-year-old son, who may be real or just another of their twisted illusions.
Highlights: Winner of the 1962 Tony Award for Best Play and originally awarded the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Drama (later stripped by the trustees as too controversial), this signature work by Edward Albee concludes Muddy Waters Theatre’s season of “Mothers and Other Strangers” presentations of dramas by one of the foremost American playwrights of the 20th century. Virginia Woolf is Albee’s best-known play and clearly demonstrates the playwright’s masterful touch with dialogue and fanciful situations.
The current production by Muddy Waters Theatre is faithfully directed by Jerry McAdams, who carefully guides his four-member cast through the intricate machinations of Albee’s story with precision and overly deliberate care. As a result, the three acts and two 15-minute intermissions consume nearly three and a half hours that nonetheless can maintain a compelling and fascinating grip on an audience.
Other Info: Virginia Woolf has a rich and potent script that offers its quartet of performers ample opportunities to display their craft. McAdams’ cast is up to the task of this assignment, richly rewarding their patrons with some excellent work. Alan Knoll is particularly fascinating to watch. As George, he slumps and shuffles across the stage while subtly coiling like a rattlesnake attacking its prey when they venture too close. Knoll treads the line between George’s illusion and reality in expert fashion, setting a tone of uneasiness and fragility that dominates the proceedings.
Meme Wolff revels in the sadistic, confrontational approach of Martha, alternately prodding and pleading with her bizarre and troubled soul-mate, both challenging and entreating him to partake in their vicious games. As the unaddressed and consistently abused Nick, Joshua Thomas is best in his horrified reactions to the vulgarities and open atrocities of his hosts, complete with nervous giggle, while Paris McCarthy shrewdly conveys the anguish and misery of the sweetly simplistic Honey, dropping her guard increasingly with each sip of brandy.
Nancy Crouse’s costume design is faithful to the button-down approach of the early ‘60s setting and complements the frumpy set designed by Nora Palitz, which emphasizes George and Martha’s equal dependence upon books and alcohol. April Scott’s brash lighting suitably represents the relentless mood of the story.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, one of the master works of 20th century American drama, provides powerful emotional fodder both for its participants and its audience, and is given a provocative interpretation in this Muddy Waters effort.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.