B Street Theater’s production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid Of Virgina Woolf?” is an outstanding piece of work. Three hours of very intense theater — and well worth the investment.
Everything about the work was well-orchestrated — the set, the music, the look and feel of the actors. In other words, the perfect ambiance. One could say the execution of the thing was perfect, but that certainly would be an ironic use of the word. Because execution was exactly what was portrayed. The calculated destruction of any semblance of respect or good will — no safe space on that stage, that’s for sure.
Because it’s not just a great script — it is — the dialog was crisp, razor sharp, the characters were complicated, nuanced, the emotional range was across the board — hate, love, vulnerability, anger, tenderness, fear, loathing, disdain, disregard, then sympathy and then more hate. But it’s more then that — the words were delivered with a real-time-in-the-moment realism that doesn’t happen by accident.
The actors — Kurt Johnson as “George”, Elisabeth Nunziato as “Martha”, Dana Brooke as “Honey” and Jason Kuykendall as “Nick” — did not miss the slightest beat in their delivery of Albee’s intensely complicated dialog. Dialog like this requires exquisite timing, and it was on display. The inflections, the gestures, the emotions in the eyes and the expressions on the actors faces matched the dialog precisely. The acting was flawless.
Talk about not having a fourth wall — the B Street stage is intimate to begin with, but the way these actors did their jobs removed any barriers between stage and audience. The expressions on the some of the audiences faces was worth the price of admission.
And it takes exactly that kind of effort to match Albee’s script.
Martha and George are sick drunks — violent and sadistic, living a lie, a thoroughly dysfunctional couple who rip each other to shreds. Nick and Honey are younger versions, not quite as dysfunctional as the older couple but on that same path.
The trick for the characters of George and Martha is to for the characters to seem to enjoy their sadistic attacks and at the same time be repulsed by it, to be ashamed of what they have become. The audience needs to despise what the characters are doing but feel sympathy for their situation. Johnson and Nunziatio are spot on in their portrayal and they achieve exactly the right balance between revulsion and pity.
Nick and Honey present themselves as regular people, young and hopeful and a bit naive. But Nick isn’t naive, he’s calculating and ambitious and full of himself. Honey isn’t simple, she’s an intelligent, sensitive person caught up in a larger game that forces her to be simple. She is expected to be accessible, a willing paramour and accomplice for Nick’s ambitions.
We get to see, more or less in real time, how Honey is being driven crazy by living in someone else’s subterfuge. And Nick — well his problem is that for the time being he’s merely ambitious and calculating — but if he’s not careful he’s going to end up like George. Kuykendall’s portrayal of the conundrum that Nick faces as he sees up close what he is doing to Honey, those moments that give him pause — that’s great acting. Brooke’s portrayal of Honey as trying to behave as if she’s whole when she’s deeply wounded — a kind, sensitive person who is being ravaged — that’s great acting as well. Both actors show us the real story in their actions as well as their words.
And maybe that’s Albee’s point — that we’re really looking at one couple at different points of time in their relationship. We only see Martha and George as bitter and vicious, with the rare glimpse of tenderness coming out in micro-seconds here and there. With Nick and Honey we get a bit more of a balance. But we get to see how fragile that balance is, how quickly it succumbs to ambition and ego and the glorious expectations of success. Nick and Honey aren’t really much different then Martha and George, just less practiced.
And through all this there are the subtexts — the missing son, George’s failed attempt at writing, his family past, Martha’s relationship with her father, her promiscuity.
The play is so emotionally violent it begs the question: what’s wrong with these people? — What makes Martha and George so twisted? And the question is really a set up — we are meant to ask it as if as to imply that isn’t “us.” No, that’s not us, that’s somebody else. But is it really somebody else?
“Whose Afraid Of Virgina Woolf” runs September 16th through October 29th. Directed by Dave Pierini. The show runs approximately 3 hours with 2 intermissions.
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