Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Also see Susan's review of At Home at the Zoo
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, andat least at the beginningher 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 situationit'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.