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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Also see Susan's review of At Home at the Zoo

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Amy Morton and Tracy Letts
The first thing an audience will see in the bruising and brilliant production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? now at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater is how funny Edward Albee's dialogue really is. The drunken banter between Martha (Amy Morton) and George (Tracy Letts) is genial though barbed; these two people really like each other, which makes the later verbal violence that much more horrifying.

The second thing in this production, directed by Pam MacKinnon and originally staged at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company, is the equal match between the lead performers. Morton is not the blowsy, vulgar woman one might expect: she's sleek, has a certain elegance, and—at least at the beginning—her humor is dry and her outbursts come and go. While George often is portrayed as a shadow of a man, reserved and defensive, Letts is a large man giving a physically expansive performance. They meet and return each other's volleys like tennis players. (Letts is a true double threat: in addition to his accomplished acting, he is the author of plays including the Pulitzer Prize-winning August: Osage County.)

The major surprise is Carrie Coon as Honey, the "mousy" wife of young professor Nick (Madison Dirks). She gives a kaleidoscopic performance as Honey gets sloshed on brandy, throws herself into interpretive dancing, and offers not-quite-appropriate comments on the situation—it's as if this party is the first opportunity Honey has had in years to cut loose. Dirks looks a little stodgy by comparison in a less flashy role, an ambitious young man who knows his skills and is determined to use them to his best advantage.

Even though almost 50 years have passed since its 1962 premiere, Albee's evisceration of life, marriage, and the lies people tell themselves remains potent in both language and performance. Society may have changed in many ways since then, but people still have to make bargains with themselves and those around them if they want to keep going for another day. George and Martha know the routines, the narratives, the shared references, the in-jokes; Nick and Honey haven't played the game as long, and (at least at this point) they aren't as well balanced a couple.

Todd Rosenthal's scenic design and Allen Lee Hughes' lighting design ground the drama in an everyday setting of slightly shabby furniture and piles of books.

Arena Stage
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
February 25th April 10th
By Edward Albee
Martha: Amy Morton
George: Tracy Letts
Nick: Madison Dirks
Honey: Carrie Coon
Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine Avenues SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photo: Michael Brosilow


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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