The 2012 Broadway revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is utterly breathtaking. The show revolves around the floundering marriage of George, a university history professor, and Martha, daughter of the university’s president. When they invite Nick, a fledgling biology professor, and his wife Honey over for an evening of fun and games, things get cerebral.
The series of snide jests and fun stories escalates into a full blown psychological conflict, where Martha and George each do their best to beat the other in a night where alcoholism and contempt reign supreme.
The show is incredibly humorous, given its dark and morbid nature. Edward Albee’s script is full of sarcastic mockery and raunchy asides, suggesting that the characters’ sexual nature is related to their self-destructive tendencies.
The set in this production is quite elaborate. For a simple cozy space, there is an incredible amount of detail on the stage—from the mixture of liquors on the bar stand to the huge mess of books scattered in the library. The lighting design lends an uneasy ambiance that carries through the show.
However, the stage is secondary to the brilliant performances. Amy Morton as Martha and Tracy Letts as George give particularly impressive presentations. The other two actors who play Nick and Honey, Madison Dirks and Carrie Coon, are also fantastic, but the lead performers are simply mesmerizing.
Letts embodies George as a man on the roller coaster of betrayal, a man wearing the guise of control but who ultimately can’t even control his own wife. Over the course of the show, George explodes in manic episodes of rage in one moment, and good humor the next.
In contrast, Martha is fun-loving and promiscuous — George’s adversary in this game of wits. The couple’s chemistry clutches the audience in moments of lightheartedness and dark merriment, followed by outrageous bouts of anger. The two leads brilliantly capture every moment in this complicated piece.
Though no show can truly be perfect, in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” the main issue is the script’s nuanced ambiguities. Indeed, to understand their complexity would require multiple viewings. Albee’s masterpiece, long-winded at times, is an esoteric play — a thinking man’s drama — and a captivating one at that.
Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is playing at the Booth Theater, 222 W. 45th St., through Feb. 24. For tickets and more information, see virginiawoolfbroadway.com.
Nikolas Reda-Castelao is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.
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