BWW Reviews: Sharp Tongues in Seattle Rep's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
As Americans we tend to love to witness a good familial car wreck. That's why dysfunctional family dramas are so popular (not to mention the hoards of people behaving badly on reality TV). But long before the Weston's of Osage County hurled their first insult or popped their first pill, George and Martha of Edward Albee's classic dark comedy "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", currently playing at the Seattle Rep, were knocking back two or three or 15 stiff ones and letting the secrets and venom fly. And Albee's play feels just as fresh today as it ever has, due in no small part to this pitch perfect production. So I guess bad manners never go out of style.
I'm not sure an entire Frat House's best drinking game could match the amount of booze flowing in this show as George and Martha (R. Hamilton Wright and Pamela Reed) arrive home from the latest faculty gathering at the college George where teaches history and put on by Martha's Father, the President of the college. Already having had quite a few, they continue the evening's libations along with the young couple they met at the party, Nick and Honey (Aaron Blakely and Amy Hill). The dashing, young, all-American, blonde haired, blue eyed, and well built new Biology professor Nick is just the thing for Martha to use to torture George and to make George regret his youth and choices. And what ensues is a maelstrom of truth and illusion spiked with alcohol and venom as George and Martha continue to try and one up each other with their vicious games using Nick and Honey as their pawns for the evening.
True the show doesn't resolve in much of a message and it's never going to cure cancer but it does amount to a riotously fun evening. I'm sure even more so now than when it was originally done in the 60's as we're more inclined to laugh at the horrific these days. And director Braden Abraham has choreographed a perfectly paced roller coaster of barbs and jabs mixed with tragic honesty and pain. Plus he's got a stunning cast hurling those barbs.
Blakely and Hill manage to hold their own against the forces of nature they are on stage with. But even as playthings of George and Martha they manage some fantastic moments. Blakely's journey from swaggering confidence to teased "house boy" to broken shell is gorgeous and Hill turns in some fantastic moments of crushing angst even through the haze of being the drunkest one at the party. But it's Wright and Reed who keep the piece flying with their incredibly dry wit and ability to turn the emotion of a scene on a dime. Wright proves to be a master of sarcasm, as his comments seem so genuine only to turn cruel in the blink of an eye. And you can practically see the conniving wheels turning in Martha's head as Reed cats about the stage stalking her next victim.
And now a note from the Pamela Reed fan club. I've noted before that I've been a huge fan of Ms. Reed for years but my fandom not withstanding, and nothing against the other actors on stage, but when Reed is on stage it's quite difficult to watch anyone else. Even when she's not saying or really doing anything, there's so much intensity in her manner that it's almost painful to look away for fear you may miss something. And here the intensity is amped up to 11 as she turns in a vastly layered and complex performance.
Whether you're a fan of the piece or a newbie you're in for one hell of a ride with this production. With my three letter rating system, I give this one an inebriated but confident YAY.
"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" performs at the Seattle Rep through May 18th. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Rep box office at 206-443-2222 or visit them online at www.seattlerep.org.