Review: WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? at Walnut Street Theatre

The production runs through February 4

By: Jan. 26, 2024
Review: WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? at Walnut Street Theatre

Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is presently being staged at The Walnut, America’s oldest theatre, founded in 1808. It’s a scintillating production directed by Artistic Director Bernard Havard.

It’s 23 years into George and Martha’s minefield marriage, and passion has long since cooled into contempt The play is a cruel and competitive game of escalating insults between career-stalled history professor George (a riveting Greg Wood) and Martha (a boozy and absolutely compelling Susan Riley Stevens), the wife who makes vicious sport of her disappointment. A play of this magnitude calls for titans in the title roles. Wood and Stevens deliver. Aisle Say's only question is how in the world did they consume this much alcohol in 2 hours and 40 minutes?

The play is a masterpiece of American theater, with its sharp dialogue, complex characters, and evolving storyline. The play is set in the grounds of a university where George works as a history professor. The couple has lived there for decades, under the all-seeing eye of Martha’s father, the university’s president. The audience sits agape; fascinated, yet it is impossible to turn away.

The plot is simple, yet highly resonant. George and Martha invite a younger couple, new biology professor Nick (Brandon O’Rourke) and his compliant wife Honey (Anna D. Bailey, a doppelganger of the movie’s Sandy Dennis) over for late-night drinks, then proceed to tear strips off them and each other in a grim and relentless excoriation. All the characters have deep seeded emotional damage. Albee’s play is far from simple. The genius in the writing is how can one be so caustic yet so deliriously funny in the same dialogue.  Poor Honey and Nick. Why did they ever agree to the invite? Nick tells George that he married Honey only because he thought she was pregnant. It was a false pregnancy. Then George eviscerates their marriage by telling Honey the real reason.

The play is a study of human nature, of the ways in which we hurt and are hurt by those we love. It is a play about the lies we tell ourselves and others, about the secrets we keep, and about the ways in which we use others to make ourselves feel better. At the conclusion, we understand the real reason for the vitriole. Martha could not accept the death of their son and took to booze to self-medicate. They are both victims. George truly loves Martha and the only way he could sustain this love was to continue this charade of 'games'.

The play is a masterpiece of American theater, with its sharp dialogue, complex characters, and evolving storyline.  

In conclusion, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is a play that is both timeless and timely. It is a play that speaks to the human condition, to the ways in which we hurt and are hurt by those we love. It is a play that is both funny and tragic, that is both a celebration of life and a meditation on death. It is a play that is both a masterpiece of American theater and a work of art that transcends time and place.  

Through February 4

Walnut Street Theatre -- Philadelphia, PA -- Official Website

Next Up: Groucho: A Life in Review February 13 – March 10




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