Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Not Chapel Street Players. Edward Albee’s 1962 drama premiered this past Friday evening on the CSP stage. Directed by Zachary Jackson (1984), Woolf examines the marital convolutions of a middle-aged couple, George and Martha, and stars Curtis King, Pam Huxtable, Meg Barton, and Edward Williams.
After a university faculty party that runs into the wee hours of the morning, the toxic couple entertains guests, an unsuspecting younger couple, Nick and Honey. George and Martha lure the younger married couple like flies to the spiders’ parlor and to their booze infused blood sport, at times, tormenting Nick and Honey mercilessly with their warped marital war games. The play’s title is a witticism on the song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” from Disney’s animated classic, The Three Little Pigs, but substitutes celebrated English author Virginia Woolf’s name for the wolf’s. The actors sing the song periodically throughout the play.
Curtis King delivers a magnificent performance as George. Despite his being slightly punch-drunk from constantly trading verbal blows with Martha, George proves that he still has a powerful jab or two left in him. Equally adept at playing both the victim and the aggressor, King prowls the stage like a predator, taking slings and arrows from the others while constantly keeping his prey on edge, leaving them guessing as to when he’ll strike next. Alternating between quiet discontent and bursts of thrilling savagery, King’s rumpled, cardigan-wearing, but somehow still charismatic George, dispenses copious amounts of alcohol and stokes the suspense for three highly entertaining acts. His verbal wit dazzles…and destroys as he brings the savage war games to a close.
Pam Huxtable is superb as Martha. Having taken swings at George both literally and figuratively over the course of their marriage, Martha proves that she delights in humiliating George. She enjoys seeing him suffer her barbs, but also relishes in his equally spiteful comebacks. Everything that Martha does is a cold and calculated move, designed to goad George into a reaction. Her tone is demeaning, derisory—calling her husband a bog to shame him regarding his inferior ranking in the university hierarchy, ridiculing George’s attempts to write a novel, and even unabashedly wrapping herself around Nick, like a serpent, in order to humiliate George. Huxtable is deliciously bitchy as she pummels George senseless in their verbal slugfest, but she is also painfully vulnerable when finally stripped of her boxing gloves in the final act and left to wallow in her own self-loathing.
Meg Barton is delightful as Honey and masterfully invites the audience in to witness the exact moment when slightly tipsy becomes downright drunk and awed delight in George and Martha’s outrageous behavior is replaced by the realization that she has, herself, become a victim of Nick’s contempt for her, somewhat mirroring George and Martha’s relationship. There is no hiding the fact that Nick and Honey are younger versions of George and Martha, especially if they keep to the path they currently follow.
Edward Williams brings Nick vividly to life with a mixture of youthful arrogance and scientific contempt. He’s a perfect foil for battle weary humanist George. Nick remains composed in the face of George and Martha’s vicious blitzes and attempts at castration until George finally makes it blatantly clear in his endgame that Nick has indiscriminately revealed the one secret that threatens to tear the young couple’s marriage apart.
Zachary Jackson’s directorial talent is evident in the staging of this paly and the direction of its actors. Jackson’s passion for this 50+ year-old drama is evident. His instincts that Albee’s work is still relevant today are absolutely correct. Jackson’s set design is inspired, and it was fun (or, at least intensely interesting) to literally see the writing on the wall. Lighting and sound design were, as always, first rate. Kudos to Joe Pukatsch and Judy David.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? shockingly depicts an intelligent couple’s vulgar descent into verbal and physical violence. Like Nick and Honey, we’re unwilling participants in George and Martha’s repugnant game-playing to combat their own unhappiness. Perhaps more shocking than the boundaries they’re willing to cross to antagonize one another, is the slightest hint of tenderness that still exists between George and Martha at the end, when we realize that there is still the tiniest spark of affection between them.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs through April 13th. The play is in three acts with two 10-minute intermissions. Call the box office at (302) 368-2248 or visit http://www.chapelstreetplayers.org to reserve your tickets today.