Tonight we saw our first play of the millennium at the Pride Company. They presented the Northern California premier of Michael Kearns Who’s Afraid of Edward Albee. The author was privy to theatre gossip when Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was first discussed. In the late sixties the production of Virginia Woolf was to be a veiled depiction of four gay men. It was to star Richard Burton as Martha, Henry Fonda as George, Jon Voight as Honey and Warren Beatty as Nick. Albee, according to legend, nixed the idea and declared that his play would never be produced with an all male cast.
Since Michael Kearns could not reproduce the actual play, he spun the idea by looking behind the scenes of a Los Angeles Equity waiver acting troupe premiering the first all male version of the Albee play. The backstage story parallels the themes of Albee’s seminal work as these four male actors prepare for their on stage roles. It reveals both personal sadness and intimate scenes on behalf of these actors. Each had a deep dark secret in their past and this became their “wolf”. The playwright created a play that pays homage to the original with intended reverence and a bit of campiness.
The four characters in this play uses the names of the original Albee play. Martha, played by Russ Duffy, is a little over the top as the campy queen who uses Hollywood clichés constantly. Warner Bros. films of the 40s gets a great workout from Martha. However, Mr. Duffy settles down in the second act to play a game not unlike the game in Boys In The Band. In fact, it is the same game. You have to tell your most deepest secret to the other three.
George, played by Dennis , has the best role and he is the most professional of the group. He has an excellent theater voice and a long list of credits in Bay Area theater. George is also the only “straight” male in the group and he has a wife at home who is expecting. He is the only one who has a head on his shoulders.
Honey is played by Scott Cox, a new actor from Florida. Cox has had very little experience in theater but he presents himself well. He is very effeminate in the role and somehow thinks he is a woman.
Nick is played by Michael Armstrong who we find out is bisexual. His character is really a closet queen soap opera idol. He has a great body, but his voice is weak. He needs more projection. However, he was adequate in the role.
The playwright does setup some analogies with the original in terms of plot. There is a little sleeping around, a character who doesn’t exist, and vaguely interesting role flip-flopping dialogue.
There are some implausible petty lines though out the play. For instance, Honey says to Nick, “I’m pregnant --with your HIV infected AIDS baby," inferring that his sexual affair with Nick has caused him to be HIV positive. These lines fly from their mouths in all seriousness. The majority of the second act consists of the characters admitting their horrible insecurities and engaging in the talking cure ad nauseum. There is a lot of screaming and yelling in this act. Maybe a little too much.
The theater is very small; I believe it seats around 50, and you are almost in the laps of the characters. Thank God, they realize they were not playing to an audience of hundreds. They kept their voices in normal register. The set was the back stage of an LA theater and it was adequate.
All in all, it was a fairly interesting idea - a play based on Virginia Woolf - but I don’t think Edward Albee will worry about this production. I will say that the four actors were good in their roles with Dennis Parks outstanding as George. I also believe that Scott Cox has an excellent theater voice and he should be an asset to Bay Area Regional Theater
I would like to quote what F. Kathleen Foley of the Los Angeles Times said about the play: “This sprawling exercise in excess is consistently fascinating, as watchable as a train wreck and as feverishly histrionic as a Joan Crawford film festival”. I could not agree with her more.
The production runs until January 22, 2000. Love, Valour, Compassion opens next week in their larger theater. Review of that production will be upcoming in several weeks.