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BWW Review: WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? at Geffen Playhouse

The electrifying revival runs through May 22

BWW Review: WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? at Geffen Playhouse
Zachary Quinto and Calista Flockhart

Edward Albee's Tony Award-winning play about discontent and despair in 1960s academia is brought to blazing, blistering life by director Gordon Greenberg at The Geffen Playhouse, its themes and anxieties as relevant as ever on its 60th anniversary.

The show centers on a cantankerous middle-aged couple, George (Zachary Quinto) and Martha (Calista Flockhart), his senior by six years. She, the daughter of a university dean, and he, a professor at that same New England school, are raging alcoholics who despise each other yet cannot disentangle themselves, resigned to running down the clock on the rest of their lives in misery. On the night in question, they come home from a faculty dinner, having invited golden boy Nick (Graham Phillips), who is new to the school, and his mousy wife, Honey (Aimee Carrero), for after-party drinks. As they drink their way into the wee hours, secrets, resentments, and frustrations rise to the surface, leaving both couples reeling and raw.

Arrogant, insecure George and angry, manipulative Martha are each deeply, desperately unhappy, sinking their teeth into each other with relish and ripping open the hides of innocents to salve their own pain for a flash. Their lives are full of demoralization and degradation, and their loathing (for each other and themselves) is palpable as they drown in drink and not-so-quiet desperation. Flockhart and Quinto are pitch perfect, casting their roles with just the right amount of pathos to keep them from drifting into caricature territory. They're just this side of becoming animals. They shout, they bray, they accuse, they skewer, they rationalize, they internalize, they compartmentalize and always remain achingly human through their aching loneliness.

BWW Review: WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? at Geffen Playhouse
Calista Flockhart

Nick and Honey, the lambs invited to the slaughter, find they have more in common with their older hosts than they first realize, getting a harrowing glimpse into what could be their future. Carrero has deft comic timing and Phillips embodies good guy Nick with a carnal quality that reveals itself as the night wears on. Every role is meaty, and while George and Martha are the ones who roar with ferocity, Nick and Honey slip their emotional time bombs in more clandestinely, which does not mean they aren't packed with power.

The scenic design by Wilson Chin reflects George and Martha's messy emotional lives with a sitting room overflowing with bookshelves, a cluttered desk, stairs and halls offshoots to other parts of the house, and wide windows looking in on them, just as the audience is. The lighting by Elizabeth Harper sets a stark and shadowy mood, and fight director Steve Rankin delivers some of the best I've seen. It's exceedingly difficult to make stage fighting seem realistic, and this is choregraphed so well, you fear for the actors. Greenberg keeps things moving, the energy never flagging, and while the show is three and a half hours long (with two 10-minute intermissions) it is never slow. The script, the actors, the pacing are all electrifying and will leave you breathless.

This is comedy at its blackest and bleakest. Albee's dialogue is complex, acerbic, and barbed, while remaining-frighteningly-relatable. Will you sympathize with George and Martha? Maybe not. But you'll understand them. And that is a sobering realization.

WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf? is performed at the Gil Cates Theater at The Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, through May 22. Tickets can be purchased by calling (310) 208.2028 or going to GeffenPlayhouse.org.

Photos by Justin Bettman



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