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A CurtainUp Review
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Virginia Wolf In Los Angeles
Virginia Wolf In London
I swear, if you existed, I'd divorce you --- Martha
Martha, in my mind you're buried in cement right up to the neck. No, up to the nose, it's much quieter. --- George, obviously capable of matching the emasculating Martha's. mean spirited gamesmanship.
Bill Irwin
Bill Irwin as George
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Kathleen Turner
Kathleen Turner as Martha
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)

Talk about weapons of mass destruction. No problem finding the arsenal Edward Albee's famous marital warriors, George and Martha, deploy during an impromptu party for a young couple new to the university headed by Martha's father and at which George is an associate history professor. The weapons are disguised as party games labeled Humiliate the Host, Get the Guests, and Hump the Hostess. The fuel to give these verbal assault weapons the power to wage "total war " is liquor.

In Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin, the recently opened Broadway revival of what is probably Albee's best known play -- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -- has two formidable warriors taking the painful yet often funny long night's journey towards dawn -- and the dawning of truth over illusion. They are well paired with David Harbour and Mireille Enos, the young couple drafted as uncomfortable participants in the wee hours war games.

Mr. Albee, who himself directed the play's last Broadway incarnation thirty years ago (with the late Colleen Dewhurst, and Ben Gazzara), should be well pleased with Anthony Page's staging. The British director has made no attempt to tamper with the original. Consequently, the play has a chance to reveal the enduring strength of its dialogue, its lacerating wit and diverse themes.

The thematic strands woven from now outdated current events have not frayed but retained their relevance in terms of the world we now live in. Nick, the young biology professor was said to be a namesake of the generally forgotten Cold War Russian leader Nikita Kruschev. Kruschev has faded from most memories but cold wars continue to rage, as does the conflict between various academic disciplines and value systems. George and Martha though slyly named for another childless couple, have come a long way from that GW's scrupulous devotion to the truth and the American Dream for which the first George laid the foundation. Their pretense about a non-existent child is so deeply entrenched in their troubled relationships that it can only be buried by a devastating exorcism on George's part.

It's easy to understand why the husky voiced, voluptuous Kathleen Turner has long yearned to play Martha. It's also nice to be able to report that her Martha has the right mix of seductiveness, vulgarity and neediness the part calls for.

While Turner fits her part to a tee both physically and vocally, Bill Irwin's George brings that something new and surprising to the production. The performer who's best known as the rubber-legged clown of a thousand facial expressions has been exploring other horizons, in his own play, Mr. Fox ( Review), and as the goat-smitten Martin in Albee's most recent play The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? (Review). As the passive-aggressive, acerbic half of the battling Virginia Woolf hosts, by George, he's got got it! His face is an ever changing map of expression. His deliberate and clarion clear delivery make the best ripostes doubly memorable -- as when he reassures Nick not to worry about being drawn into a private argument with "Martha and I are merely exercising. . . . that's all, we're merely walking what's left of our wits" or when he instructs Martha to "show her {Honey} where we keep the. . .eh, euphemism"

David Harbour gives a true Midwestern athleticism to the ambitious new professor at New Carthage College (another bit of apt symbolic naming since Carthage was the site of the destruction of an ancient empire, as it is here the site of the destruction of the American Dream of happy marriages and realized ambitions). Harbour lets just enough insecurity peek through his outspoken hostility at being dragged into a war he'd rather have nothing to do with. In a terrific scene between him and George at the top of the second act, we see the wolf lurking in his past and discover enough similarities between his and George's marriage to make us wonder whether he and Honey are really a fantasy version of the host and hostess in embryo. Enos's Honey has enough unique ticks to make the most of this smallest of the four roles.

John Lee Beatty's chocolate colored set suits the dark humor though you wonder how, with all the alcohol consumed in this household, anyone ever stayed sober enough to finish even half the books filling the shelves. I started to count the number of drinks poured but gave up before the first intermission.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
Directed by Anthony Page
Cast: Kathleen Turner (Martha), Bill Irwin (George), Mireille Enos (Honey) and David Harbour (Nick).
Set Design:John Lee Beatty
Costume Design: Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design: Mark Bennett
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes, plus intermission.
Longacre, 220 West 48th Street, 212/239-6200
From 3/12/05; opening 3/30/04. Tue @ 7pm, Wed - Sat @ 8pm, Wed & Sat @ 2pm, Sun @ 3pm
Tickets: $91.25 orchestra.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on performance
Virginia Wolf In Los Angeles
Virginia Wolf In London

Virginia Woolf in Los Angeles
By Laura Hitchcock
Kathleen Turner made a Hollywood entrance, endearing herself to the packed house at The Ahmanson, with Bette Davis's famous line, "What a dump!" Like everyone else, her character, Martha, spent the next ten minutes trying unsuccessfully to remember which movie it was from. Martha's husband George (Bill Irwin) isn't the type who would know or probably have seen Davis and Joseph Cotton in Beyond the Forest (1949) but Edward Albee uses the cultural type-casting to imprint Martha. He's written a big, blustering braying woman who uses all these elements to conceal her sorrow and fear and as weapons in the games that make a Frankenstein monster's life out of their 23-year-old marriage. The daughter of the president of the college where George teaches, the roots of her masochism are never fully explored. Albee offers a tale about the death of George's parents at his hands that may or may not be true but obviously touches a nerve. Certainly the failure of his one novel does, as Martha jeeringly exposes it. All the dirty linen becomes props and entertainment for the performances George and Martha put on for the new young faculty couple they've invited over for nightcaps after a faculty reception. The current Nick (David Furr) is a golden boy, new cutting edge of the biology department who, George implies, will make everybody clones of himself. His wife Honey (Kathleen Early) is a wispy girl whose controlling neuroses surface with each swig of the brandy bottle.

Although sometimes clumsy in its psychological analysis, the writing and the fighting are so brilliant that interest never flags during the three-hour production. No one peels layers away more skillfully than Albee. It's often been asked whether the names George and Martha refer to our first president and first lady, thus making his characters emblematic of the American way of marriage. That concept works, as does the searing honesty beneath the characters' role-playing.

This production has been extensively reviewed here during the New York run and written about ever since its 1962 debut, so I'll confine myself to commenting on how the production appeared last night. Director Anthony Page's long familiarity with Albee's work serves him well here. He lets Albee's language play itself without undue emphasis from the actors. Thus, Turner's natural exuberance and eagerness take the sting out of her monstrosity. Irwin's low-key delivery and sly sense of humor make a George who rarely raises his voice a believable complement to Martha. The early history of their relationship is revealed by their tones. Furr is a stalwart Nick, very much the self-satisfied jock, and Early uses a wonderful nasal voice that rivets attention on her Honey. This is a revival not to be missed. The extraordinary qualities of the stars imbue the timelessness of Albee's play with unforgettable power. Run, do not walk, to the Ahmanson where it continues through March 18th.

Virginia Woolf in London
Lizzie Loveridge
Anthony Page's exemplary Broadway production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf has come to London with its feted American cast intact. As one of those who hasn't seen a stage production before but who remembers the caustic power of the Taylor/Burton film, I was looking forward to seeing it. This is Kathleen Turner's first outing in London since The Graduate in 2000 (Mike Nicholls directed both 1960s films) and what star quality she brings! With her frumpy clothes and slippers, she blends Martha's ageing desperation with a sultry sensuality. Her voice is amazing, hitting the deepest of female registers, incongrously talking about "Daddy"and of course after so many New York performances, her timing of the barbs which she twists and turns to humiliate George, is perfection.

Bill Irwin's George is a surprise. Initially he seems all grey and trampled but as the play progresses, he reveals a complete set of aces to trump his wife's flashier cards. I liked the casting of David Harbour as Nick, not too attractive but rather smug, and Mireille Enos' Honey, who sprawls when in her cups, her limbs seeming to work like a rag doll. I was struck by the way alcohol drives the games to their extremes. Are Nick and Honey a younger version of George and Martha with Martha's academic contacts equating to Honey's money? Are these the last generation of women to want to succeed through their husbands' careers?

I wasn't as shocked as I was forty years ago and I found myself thinking about the impact in the current decade of Albee's The Goat or Who is Sylvia? with its surreal marital infidelity. Surely after the 1980s, George and Martha would just have divorced? Kathleen Turner's performance has had much praise from the London critics and the show is now booking until 13th May 2006. It must be good to be able to re-invent herself for a second career as a stage actor.

The production notes for the Apollo Theatre production (Shaftesbury Avenue London W1-- Tube: Piccadilly Circus) are the same as for the New York production, review which follows these notes, with sound recreated by Fergus O'Hare, a running time: of 3 hours and 5 minutes with two intervals

©Copyright 2005, Elyse Sommer.
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