Edward Albee’s 1962 drama “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” invites audiences to be a collective fly on the wall of George and Martha’s modest home to witness their cruel psychological warfare, intense verbal abuse and what amounts to some of the best writing in the American theater.
By hosting the play in the intimate back room known as the Studio Theater rather than on its larger main stage, the Beck Center for the Arts puts the audience directly in the line of fire. So close are the performers – made even more so by director Donald Carrier’s tendency to push them to the edge of the performance space and the brink of sanity – that there should be a splash zone for the flying gin and soaring tempers.
The domestic battlefield that is “Virginia Woolf” is divided into three, one-hour acts that George and Martha have labeled “Humiliate the Hosts,” “Get the Guests” and “Hump the Hostess.” It all amounts to schadenfreude, the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others, of which there is plenty in this production for the characters and the audience.
The play begins as George, a professor at a small New England college, and his wife Martha return home at 2am, familiarly drunk from a Saturday night party. Much to George’s displeasure, Martha has invited an opportunistic young professor and his clinging wife to their home for a night-cap. Over the course of the evening, George and Martha use Nick and Honey as pawns and props in increasingly punishing mind games.
Key to a successful “Virginia Woolf” is having a gritty, foul-mouthed Martha who can unleash violent rants and merciless barbs, emasculate George and Nick while seducing them, and then earnestly bare her frailty and deep-rooted self-loathing. Derdriu Ring in the role is as delightfully complicated as she is compelling. Surely there have been other fiery redheads playing Martha, but few have been as memorable.
Equally important is having a pathetic George wallow in his own mediocrity and fold under Martha’s hard-hitting humiliation, only to match her fury with bitter arrogance, astute intelligence and an eye for her tender soft-spots. Michael Mauldin is brilliant in this role.
Both actors ride the emotional pendulum that is this play like the seasoned professionals they are.
As for their young guests, Daniel Telford and Becca Ciamacco are wonderful as these deceptively secondary and extremely challenging characters. And they ride that same pendulum with convincing inebriation, palpable consternation and mounting outrage.
Carrier’s perpetually forward-moving direction keeps the pace lively while Aaron Benson’s and Adam Ditzel’s scenic and lighting designs, respectively, make the cluttered ‘60s-style living room that houses this play look lived in. Character-defining costuming comes courtesy of Carolyn Dickey.
A perfect storm has been created for Albee’s masterpiece and it has hit land in Lakewood.