Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

This revival proves Albee's 1962 drama to be as brutal and unsettling as ever

Arts Review

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Mary Moody Northen Theatre, 3001 S. Congress, 448-8484

Through Nov. 21

Running time: 2 hr., 50 min.

A word to the wise: 2 in the morning is not the best time to drop in on George and Martha. Visiting this contentious couple at that dark hour is akin to landing at a jungle watering hole just as two excessively vicious predators square off against each other in a showdown for supremacy. Their reckless savagery is such that woe betide any creatures stumbling into their midst. You can count on such innocents to be turned on and torn limb from limb.

So it goes in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, when Nick and Honey appear at George and Martha's doorstep in the dead of night. New to the college where Martha's father has been president for decades and George is an associate professor of history, the young marrieds think they're in for just an amiable little après-faculty party nightcap. But their hosts, having lapped liberally from the liquor cabinet already, are into the latest round of their long-running marital duel – 23 years and counting, they repeatedly remind us – rehashing George's humiliating failures in both academia and manhood and Martha's gin-soaked bitterness and bullying with a ferocity that borders on the bestial.

That sense of feral aggression informs much of this Mary Moody Northen Theatre production. Babs George's Martha is red in tooth and claw and caftan, costumer Jennifer J. Madison's luridly crimson dress giving her the appearance of having come from a fresh kill where she bathed in her victim's blood. And Babs George wears it with the authority of a lioness before a pride. Indeed, her eyes convey an air of the big cat, glinting when she's on the attack; you can almost see her catch the scent of blood on the wind. Her Martha lives for the hunt and operates on primal instincts. Ev Lunning Jr. infuses his George with more cunning, calculating where a strike will do the most damage before assailing his victim. His professorial reserve and classic academic look, down to the spectacles and sand-hued sweater with stitched elbow patches, serve as a kind of camouflage, suggesting a less deadly character. But Lunning's George proves to have fangs as sharp and lethal as his wife's.

And that proves most unfortunate for Nick and Honey. As played by St. Edward's University student Meredith Montgomery, Honey is a doe separated from the herd, her eyes darting nervously as she's circled by her hosts. She hasn't a chance, and she senses it. Her husband fares a bit better; fellow student Kel Sanders gives him a cocksureness rooted in Nick's youth and virility that allows him to face, even challenge, George and Martha. But he can't match the older couple in ruthlessness, and he too goes down like some hobbled antelope.

In 1962, the shock of Edward Albee's play came from its brutality, ripping away the placid mask of postwar domestic life to reveal a caustic, cruel face beneath. Given how much more graphic and profane work has come down the pike in the five decades since, you might think the play had lost that power today. But in the moment before Lunning's George makes his final, devastating confrontation with Martha, one feels a queasiness in the pit of the stomach, that of the suspended instant before a roller coaster begins its terrifying plummet. Director Christina J. Moore has tapped the drama's dark source and, with her talented collaborators, crafted a version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that unsettles us as deeply as ever.

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Mary Moody Northen Theatre, Christina J. Moore, Babs George, Ev Lunning Jr., Jennifer J. Madison, Meredith Montgomery, Kel Sanders

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