Review of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By Edward Albee
Directed by David Lear
For tickets / schedule :
Main Stage West, Sebastopol
RUN: March 3-19, 2017
RATING: 5 of 5 stars
(March 17, 2017)
Exquisitely crafted language is filled with painful candor in this quintessential American play. It can be a vicious picture of a middle aged couple whose relationship has been sucked dry of any respect, reduced to lashing out at each other and competing in a series of “games” that celebrate their rancor. Director David Lear has taken a different approach to this classic play that is a refreshing vision; George and Martha give the impression that underneath the arguing they are still deeply in love, on the verge of giving up, but pushing for a better life together. There are glimmers of light peeling back the layers of routine and frustration that culminate in a touching conclusion as they clutch for each other, torn up from the fight and ready to find peace.
Peter Downey’s George brings a steady flow through movement and an easy going attitude that speaks of intellectual boredom exercising itself by wrecking havoc on less finely tuned minds. Martha (Sandra Ish) is perfectly capable of tossing his dark repartee back at him in manner that disturbs their guests and occasionally the audience in a manner that the couple, in contrast, seem quite comfortable with.
Rose Roberts as the younger Honey has few lines, and does not need them to make an impression. She is fully present and hilarious as an extremely tipsy guest ready with well timed reactionary expressions and a sudden breakout of interpretive dance that is brilliantly executed. John Browning’s Nick keeps a stiffness that oozes disgust at having to put up with the shenanigans, until alcohol takes hold and rips away his inhibitions, leading to a loosely passionate moment reveling in exhausted inebriation. This is an all-around strong cast that holds their own, each bringing unique energy to the stage.
The prevailing feel of Lear’s set design is emptiness, reflecting the state of George and Martha’s lives, leaving the bar to take center stage, as it does in the story. One of the few distractions in this staging was the lack of ice tongs—it may seem minor, but the amount of times that George reaches in to pick ice up with his bare hands to toss them in glasses took me into a train of thought wondering how anyone who drinks as much as they do could have a household without simple bar tools; it seemed out of character, especially in that time period.
Main Stage West has embraced the lighter side of Edward Albee’s play—replacing bitter venom with a realistic couple struggling to regain control over their dreams. Lear’s intimate portrait reveals how easy it is to give up, and the importance of pressing forward through the pain to reclaim an honest and loving relationship.