BWW Review: Stark Naked Theatre's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? Is A Can't-Miss Show

Kim Tobin-Lehl and Philip Lehl as Martha and George in
Stark Naked Theatre's
WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?

Well, we now know one thing: If the question is, in fact, WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, the answer ain't Stark Naked Theatre.

This month, Stark Naked presents Edward Albee's 1962 classic WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, a play about the brutal marital "exercises" a couple, George and Martha, engage in late one night in front of (and involving) a younger couple, Nick and Honey.

Albee's play is a classic for a reason - the story is there, the pacing perfect, and the dialogue incisive - and Stark Naked delivers in every way. At three hours, it's a testament to director Jennifer Dean and her actors that every moment is played with such richness and authenticity.

Much of Albee's play depends on the ability of the actors playing George and Martha, and the performances of both Philip Lehl and Kim Tobin-Lehl, together and separate, are beautifully nuanced, flowing from vicious to tender, insecure to desperate, in the blink of an eye. Lehl's George shines as a man who may be constantly emasculated by his wife, but still wields a quiet power in their relationship. Lehl excels at George's wordplay, and is a captivating sight as he spins a yarn. As Martha, Tobin-Lehl deftly navigates the at times abruptly shifting tone, eliciting a laugh as easily as a flinch, sometimes back to back. At Martha's most benign, she reminds me of Rose Marie; at her worst, she is abrasive and mean. But through the wheedling, the name calling, and the insults, there is a familiarity and a genuine intimacy between these two people that is incredibly compelling.

Matt Hune and Teresa Zimmermann play Nick and Honey. Smarminess permeates all of Nick's interactions, in particular those with George and Martha. Hune's Nick attempts to play along in George and Martha's reindeer games but it is clear from the start that he is outmatched and outclassed. As his wife Honey, Zimmermann begins the play with wide eyes and a polite smile - that is, until her increasingly drunken grip on decorum starts to slip. Zimmermann plays drunk well, loose-limbed and sloppy, but it is the range of emotion she must wordlessly express throughout the show - her face slipping from eager to confused, oblivious to nauseous - that is most impressive.

The moments all four actors are on stage together are electric. I would say that it is like watching predator and prey, but Nick and Honey are more like chum, simply the bait that George and Martha throw overboard to lure each other closer.

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? is a one set play, and the home Scenic and Lighting Designer Kevin Rigdon and Properties Designer Mark Robbins have built George and Martha is warm and unassuming, an unsuspecting backdrop for the emotional violence and coercion we come to see, with a keen attention to detail - I for one have never been in a space inhabited by an academic that didn't have piles of books, overflow, on the floor. The set encompasses the audience, its intimacy leaving us to feel less like a fly on the wall and more like another guest lucky enough to have not caught the eye of George or Martha. Costume Designer Macy Lyne further enhances the characters with a bright, romantic tea dress (Honey); sexy, severe black silk (Martha); and softly rumpled, mousy neutrals (George).

Everything together makes this production of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? one of the can't miss shows of the year.

Performances of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? run through March 26 at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and 3:00 p.m. on Sundays. Spring Street Studios, Studio 101, 1824 Spring St. $15-$49. For more information, call 832-866-6514 or visit starknakedtheatre.com.



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From This Author Natalie de la Garza