Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? bites—with wit and cruelty—and, at times, is touching in a completely sad way.
But mostly, it’s offensive. Unpleasant. Repulsive. Leaves you squirming in your seat, feeling as if you’ve just had a buzzy night that snapped from happy hour to massive hangover with ten too many vodka tonics.
And that’s theatrical perfection.
Julie Herber would turn a boozy brunch into a day spent in a medieval Pillory. As the bawdy Martha, she’s that good at being vile, even from the onset as she invites a young couple, Nick and Honey, to her home after an evening faculty party. This to the chagrin of her husband, George—a history professor cum failed fiction writer.
Martha, herself, is somewhat of a failure too. She married a man unfit to follow in her father’s footsteps as the president of a small New England college, where both George and Nick (a biologist) teach.
Written in 1962 by Edward Albee, the play has become an iconic piece of the American canon: theatre, literature, and film. In three acts, the characters devolve not only as individuals but also as couples, dropping their external facades as truths emerge during a series of “games” akin to Charades mixed with Truth or Dare and psychological warfare. The title, even, evokes the perpetual child— who loves to play pretend—in all of us, taking on the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?” Throwing in Virginia Woolf—the mentally ill modernist, feminist, and writer who drowned herself—makes the song into a sinister literary joke.
With the exception of the monochromatic (faded marigold) décor of a 1960s living room, that the MET’s Woolf speaks to eternal themes— private vs public persona, infertility/fertility, and failure—is without surprise. But, as someone who had never seen or read Albee’s masterpiece, I was struck how prophetic it felt at times—especially as George berates Nick in one scene early on.
In a diatribe on the future of biology, George pinpoints where exploration of the chromosome will take humanity: into genetics and the (coming) days of designer babies. Forget infertility. The future is full of super beautiful beings, like Nick, grown from tubes. We may just get there some day, George. We just may. And, no, we won’t look to history to guide us on that slippery moral slope.
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
Closes March 9, 2014
Maryland Ensemble Theatre
31 W Patrick St
3 hours with 2 intermissions
Tickets: $16 – $25
Thursdays thru Sundays
Joe Jalette plays Nick pitch perfect, as an All-American smarm in a social-climbing suit. Courtney McLaughlin is pure levity, providing the show its lightest humor as Nick’s mousy, slim-hipped lass, Honey. She can’t hold her liquor in the most fun ways (drunken dancing), but she’s just as entrenched within her own squeaky-clean falsified reality and no more likable than the alcoholic Martha, passive aggressive George, or cocky Nick.
Tad Janes runs the stage with his George, the put-upon, never-was, middle-aged husband. Jones is wry, prickly, yet he seems more of this century than the last. However, he and Herber perform with chaotic composure: degrading one another, dragging Nick and Honey down, and making the audience participants on their hellish journey, which, strangely ends with a moment of tender, marital affection.
The cast breathes decadent life into every word of this wonderfully staged production, so prepare for a long evening and a lot of emotion. For we all hide behind some kind of lie.
Note: There is smoking on stage and the venue is small.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? . by Edward Albee . Directed by Peter Wray; Starring Julie Herber, Tad Janes, Joe Jalette, and Courtney McLaughlin . Costume Designer: Jennifer Adams . Set Designer: Allison Duvall . Sound Designer: Steven Younkins . Lighting Designer: Paul Shillinger . Properties : James McGarvey . Stage Manager Devin Gaither, Assistant Stage Manager Kevin Cole . Produced by Maryland Ensemble Theatre . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.