New York City Theater
"Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Longacre Theater, Manhattan
Though we may tire of revivals, we can appreciate them if performances bring a new vibrancy to the time-honored words. Such is the case with Edward Albee’s 1961 drama--“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”--once again mounted on the Broadway stage.
“Woolf” is the tale of two academic couples—one young and newly-arrived on campus, the other a twosome which has been at war with each other for years. (One is reminded of August Strindberg’s 1901 play, “The Dance of Death,” also a tale of a marriage based on love and need, hate and habit. Indeed Strindberg’s drama could well have served as Albee’s inspiration.)
George and Martha, the older pair, have invited Nick and Honey back for a nightcap after a faculty party. At least Martha has extended the invitation. The story unfolds in real time, covering a devastating night-to-dawn marathon, replete with accusations, betrayals, seductions, and drunken brawling.
Albee, as always, introduces tantalizing mystery into the script, even as the format appears to offer straight-on realism. Why is this couple out for blood, slashing at each other? Why do they need the other couple as victims—and as spectators? Who, indeed, are the victims? Where is the mysterious son of whom they speak? Did he ever exist?
But very clearly spelled out, mystery or not, is the dissection of two couples’ relationships, as carefully, thoroughly dissected as if the specimens were under a laboratory microscope.
While this four-character play is blessed with fine performances, it is Kathleen Turner, as the loud, blousy Martha, who commandeers the stage. One stays riveted to Turner, as her mesmerizing performance unfolds. Turner, in the role she was born to play, cuts George into little pieces. But Bill Irwin, usually such a magnificent multi-talented player, falls short this time around, somehow fading into the woodwork. Granted that he is meant to be a less colorful character than his mate, his only retaliatory weapons being sarcasm and erudition. But, on his own terms, this George should be a match for Martha, which he is not.
Both Mireille Enos and David Harbour, on the other hand, turn in fine supporting performances as Nick and Honey. Enos is especially delicious as the pathetic Honey, a role which she keeps from turning to caricature while pulling out all the stops. And Harbour effectively portrays the smug, opportunistic young Nick, as his defenses are gradually stripped away.
In all, a production well worth seeing—both for neophyte audiences and for old-time Albee fans.
-- Irene Backalenick
Apr. 30, 2005