Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Have you ever had a married couple fight in front of you? Whether it was an out-and-out brawl or just a pointed stare, you likely were thrown and left squirming in the middle of their uncomfortable marriage moment. The truth is that none of us knows what really goes on behind a marriage’s closed doors.
During Brüka Theatre’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the play in which Edward Albee kicked the closed doors wide open, I did plenty of squirming. That’s why it’s so good.
The play, written by Albee in 1962, gives us front row seats to the marriage of George and Martha. George, played here by Scott Beers, is an associate history professor at a New England college. Martha, played by Holly Natwora, is his brow-beating wife, whose father also happens to be president of the college. The play opens as the incessantly bickering George and Martha stumble home, late and drunk, after a party. Martha announces that she has invited a young couple from the party to their house for a nightcap.
The young man is Nick (Geoffrey Altrocchi), a biology professor at the same college, and his simpering, childish bride is Honey (Alison Girard), who swills too much brandy and, as we later learn, throws up at the drop of a hat.
The foursome commences drinking, and Nick and Honey soon realize they’ve been invited to this funhouse to witness an ugly, vitriolic display, which by turns fascinates and embarrasses them. Soon, they become pawns in a series of cruel games—"Humiliate the Host,” as George later names it, is the first. Martha uses Nick and Honey to criticize and humiliate George for his weakness and inability to earn a promotion. At one point, an exasperated Martha says, “I swear, if you existed, I’d divorce you.” It’s moments like those that made me ache.
The next awful game is “Hump the Hostess,” in which Martha seduces Nick to spite George. Then comes “Get the Guests,” where George returns the favor; he’s learned that Nick reluctantly married Honey because of her hysterical pregnancy, and George uses this information to torment them mercilessly. And finally, there’s “Bringing Up Baby,” in which the ugly truth about the oft-mentioned, but never-discussed son of George and Martha’s is finally exposed, casting a whole new light on their marriage.
This production, directed by Jim Martin, works for many reasons. First and foremost, Beers and Natwora are superb. They manage to carry three hours of intense psychological drama without missing a beat, in some of the best live theater I’ve seen.
The layout of the theater helps, too. The audience is seated in a horseshoe-configuration, very close to the stage. We aren’t just watching George and Martha viciously attack each other. We’re houseguests, and it’s personal. As the drinks flow and the hours wear on, the tension becomes palpable, and it’s mesmerizing. I even felt a bit drunk, like I’d stayed up all night at the party along with them.
This three-act show is for mature audiences only. It’s three hours long, and it’s often too real and uncomfortable. But it’s also a beautifully acted, honest portrayal of what two people who are hurting can do to each other. It’s an emotional roller coaster, but it’s so worth the ride.