New York City Theater
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
The latest revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is a revelation, a chance to see a great play in a new light. The battling Martha and George, embodied in blazing performances by Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin, are as if newly minted. While not skimping on the horrors of a vitriolic relationship that thrives on booze, sex and insults, director Anthony Page adds monumental laughter and unforeseen tears.
By the end of a long night of hell, foul-mouthed Martha, who has been baiting the seemingly meek husband George, a history professor at the university where Martha's father is president, are as spent as orgiastic lovers. That they're old warriors who thrive on conflict could make any inkling of reconciliation seem unbelievable. Yet, at the end of this production, there's actually a release, a tragic catharsis and George and Martha (Washington?) demand your pity.
Their games - Hump the Hostess, Get the Guest -- have quite unnerved the young couple they've invited for late-night drinks. Nick, the devilishly handsome biology professor and Honey, his hysterical, uptight wife are appalled. By the last act, aptly titled "The Exorcism," Albee has thoroughly eviscerated his characters and made points about truth vs. illusion, the decline of the west and life (biology) vs. death (history).
A titanic Kathleen Turner was made for the role of the boozy, blowsy Martha. This is her finest stage performance. As George, Bill Irwin is a trapped animal, averting his eyes, walking on eggshells, finding the marrow in George's thin bones.
Director Page gives Nick and Honey, reluctant witnesses to Martha and George's war, backbones they hardly showed before, and they're boldly portrayed by David Harbour and Mireille Enos. On John Lee Beatty's wonderfully musty set, Page peels away the play's layers, unfolding its nuances and refreshing its humanity.
-- David A. Rosenberg
April 1, 2005