Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Desert Rose Playhouse
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Dean's reviews of Bard Crawl: Twelfth Night and The Mikado


(standing) Karen Byers and
Christopher Chase; (sitting) Bryan
Durden and Becky Vogsland

Photo by Elizabeth Goldfarb
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was the first play that scared the bejesus out of me. That was forty years ago. I was terrified that an intimate relationship could become as brutal as the scorched-earth battleground of George and Martha. Funny how our fears track us down. Having tasted a bit of this flavor in real life, the story ain't as scary now. But it's still just as powerful.

Much of the play's power comes from its hard reality. I've seen reviewers stretch to find meaning beyond the simply display of a marriage turned destructive - such as illusion versus reality - but that reach isn't necessary. The beauty of this play is its stunning accuracy and its disturbing honesty.

1962 was a timid time. The Pulitzer Prize drama jury recommended the play, but the advisory board went queasy. No prize for drama was awarded that year. It was a big event in 1966 when Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was turned into a movie starring Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, directed by Mike Nichols. Though good, it was a toned-down abbreviated version that lacked some of the rawness and red-hot fire of the play. The move showed the scars, but failed to show the gaping wounds. For that, you need the full three hours, the coarse language, and out-of-bounds touching a 1966 movie wasn't allowed to produce.

The Desert Rose Playhouse decided to take on Albee's play in response to his death at 88 last September, and they've done a tremendous job. Director Michael Montroy delivers superb casting. He brought Christopher Chase (George) and Bryan Durden (Nick) back together after directing them successfully in Tuesdays with Morrie last year. He also made the excellent choice to bring Karen Byers (Martha) and Becky Vogsland (Honey) into the mix. Where on earth did he find these two? More please.

All four actors deliver the story with force and edgy authenticity. Goodness, after 55 years, this play is still a wild animal. The actors jump into the ring without reservation, yelling and spittin'. Three hours of it, not even counting the two intermissions. Chase digs deep for expressions and responses to flesh out the script. His taunting and teasing of Honey is inspired (perhaps the credit goes to the director—not sure). The cruel condescension is delicious.

Byers' job with Martha requires somewhat less subtlety. Martha has one speed—she goes for the throat— and Byers delivers this in full force. Not for a moment does it seem like Byers is reciting lines. Martha rises organically from the actor's body. Durden does a nice job as the dupe who's clever-but-not-clever-enough to be any match for George and Martha. Vogsland has found places in Honey I hadn't seen before. While George and Martha mock her seeming dim-wittedness, Vogsland suggests Honey isn't quite so unaware. She's knows she's no match for her vicious elders, but she seems to realize their force of personality doesn't redeem their emotional corruption any more than their complete lack of restraint passes as honesty.

Hats off to a wonderful set, thanks to Sheila Freed, Dagmar Garza, Bryan Durden, and Karin Pitman. Lighting (Carl Green), music (Elizabeth Goldfarb), and costumes (Freed and Sherry May) are all solid.

This is an impressive production for this small theatre. The Desert Rose Playhouse is doing quite a favor to Albuquerque's theatre community by presenting one terrific play after another, concentrating on award winners.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Desert Rose Playhouse through May 21, 2017. Performances are on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:00. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $12 for students, seniors, and ATC members. For reservations, go to desertroseplayhouse.net.


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