BWW Reviews: Nothing to Fear - WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

Settling into our seats at Baltimore's Spotlighters for a performance of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", my theater companion huffed, "What's with Albee, anyway?" Yes, an Edward Albee play can be rather daunting. In its 52nd season, Audrey Herman's Spotlighters Theatre is now hosting its second Albee play in 2013, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", following on the heels of Albee's "A Delicate Balance," earlier this spring. Both plays come in at just over three hours, and that's a lot of family dysfunction and over-the-borderline alcoholism to take in for today's gratify-us-instantly audiences.

But when you're dealing with quality-both in the script and on the stage-there's nothing to fear, unless you have an aversion to great theater.

For the uninitiated, "Who's Afraid" takes a look at that bastion of marital bliss, George (Jim Hart) and Martha (Valerie Lash), a New England college professor and his wife who enjoy laying into each other with soul-scorching barbs as they knock back high-ball after high-ball. It's clear they relish the opportunity to engage in mutual insult and injury as it's the only way either can feel anything given the ever-flowing booze, bad life choices and symbiotic self-loathing that passes for love in their relationship.

Every play needs a catalyst, an in this case, it's a late night visit by a young couple, Nick (Zak Zeeks) and Honey (Mary Czar) who have enough of their own "bad life choices" and personal issues to make them a more youthful reflection of middle-aged George and Martha.

It's an Albee play, so the stage is going to feature a bar (it does), and Hart spends a large portion of his time in front of it, pouring drink after drink, tossing his lines over his shoulder. Hart's delivery is quiet, and sometimes a bit hard to hear, but it fits-the character of George is supposed to come across is somewhat down-beaten, mousey, a man who isn't used to theatrics but prefers to sit, read, drink and stew in his own thoughts, most of these presumably about his failure to achieve any kind of status in life, or at least a status his wife would respect.

If George is quiet, Martha is most definitely LOUD, and on multiple levels. Ms. Lash does a wonderful job as the angry, yet vulnerable, promiscuous yet faithful, merciless yeT Loving Martha, who eviscerates George daily with her tongue, yet admits, sincerely, that George was the only man she ever loved. That's not an easy image to portray, but Lash does it well, creating a believable, even likeable character who somehow can be vulgar in one moment, and tender the next.

Zeeks and Czar do well in their roles as an upwardly mobile couple, Zeeks' Nick on the fast track at the University to heading up the math...or is it biology?...department, while Czar's Honey demonstrates an affinity for brandy, tile floors and gastrointestinal woes that today would likely be labeled bulimia.

Watching "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is a little like watching a highly intellectual horror movie. George and Martha are the monsters and Nick and Honey are the young couple who stumble upon them in their haunted house and, for some reason, just can't make themselves leave. The question at the core of the play, of course, is what's haunting the house? What's the story about George and Martha's son? How did these two manage to procreate? Or did they?

Kudos to director Fuzz Roark who, as Spots' executive managing and artistic director, is the master at utilizing the diminutive space allotted him by a 70-seat theater-in-the-square, the action terminally punctuated by those four large columns that likely have more coats of paint than a redwood has rings.

While "Who's Afraid" isn't exactly one of Shakespeare's bloody-sword-and-shield tragedies, it's got enough on stage combat to merit a "Violence Coach," Jenny Male, who clearly did her job as the vignettes in domestic violence as portrayed by Lash and Hart were quite realistic.

Yes, an Albee play can be rather daunting. One wonders if amongst the Clark bars and diet Cokes in the lobby, one might also find some Prozac being dispensed given what transpires on the stage, but on second thought, best to keep the mind clear. Like a rollercoaster ride, Albee is best experienced with one's eyes wide open, ready to take the full brunt of it, drinks and all.

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (three acts, two intermissions) continues its run at the Spotlighters Theatre, 817 ST. Paul Street, now through Oct. 6th. Call 410-752-1225 or visit www.spotlighters.org.


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From This Author Daniel Collins