Venice Theatre reaches high with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By Kay Kipling
Some works are challenging (especially for a community theater) to present because of “adult” material; some because previous versions of the work loom so large in the collective memory; and some just because of the emotional range demanded of the actors. Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, now onstage at Venice Theatre’s Stage II, is surely challenging because of all three.
Denied the Pulitzer Prize when it bowed in 1962 because of its “vulgarity” and sexual frankness, famed probably for most because of the film starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and almost overwhelming in its swiftly changing moods, Virginia Woolf asks a lot of the VT cast and of the audience as well. (And I haven’t even mentioned the fact that with two intermissions it’s more than three hours long). But while it’s occasionally exhausting, the Venice Theatre production is also rewarding.
From the moment you enter the theater you’re enveloped in the surround of the home of university professor George and wife Martha (Murray and Lori Chase), surely one of the most famous couples in contemporary theater. Set designer Kirk Hughes has used every wall of the in-the-round setting to hold books, lamps, glasses and bric-a-brac from the couple’s lives, putting us squarely in their living room as they battle it out in front of the younger couple (Doug Landin and Molly Healy) they’ve invited over for drinks following a party hosted by the university president, Martha’s father.
George and Martha’s long and troubled relationship revolves around playing games, and there are dangerous ones on display as the night of drinking and talking wears on. While George and Martha dominate the proceedings at first, gradually we learn more about the younger pair, Nick and Honey—of his ambition and her instability, for example—information that George and Martha turn to their own uses.
From the outset the Chases seem absolutely confident in their roles, and as the tension escalates, when they’re really ready to take each other on, they’re at the top of their game, batting back and forth insults and then retreating for another attack. Landin and Healy (under the smart direction of Ron Ziegler) also demonstrate more than usual skill in bringing their characters to life, making them fit foils for their dueling hosts.
By the close of the evening, we’ve been on a rollercoaster ride, one that ends with Lori Chase in a totally believable meltdown as the finally vulnerable Martha, no longer able to reside inside her most cherished illusion. She must be totally drained—and the audience may feel the same way.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? continues through April 26; for tickets call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.