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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 

When both the language and the ideas are so monumental, finding a purchase and not letting go for three hours is a remarkable feat.

click to enlarge Woolf pack: The Summer Company's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - PHOTO COURTESY OF WILLIAM LYON
  • Photo courtesy of William Lyon
  • Woolf pack: The Summer Company's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Now that's what I call a play. Three acts of two married couples screaming and crying into the existential void of Cold War America.

It's a testament to the popularity of Edward Albee's 1960 play that, for a time, when people heard "George and Martha" they didn't automatically think of the Father of Our Country and His Lovely Wife who made all that fudge. Instead they pictured Albee's George and Martha: a New England college professor and his wife who invite a new teacher and his bride, Nick and Honey, over to their place for a party.

In its day, the play was a scandal. Several members of the Pulitzer committee resigned when the rest of the group wouldn't give an award to Albee because of the play's language. Well, tempus fugit. By the late '60s, the language seemed tame; for the most recent Broadway revival, Albee rewrote the play, replacing the "screw yous" with lots of "fucks." He also cut the script by about a half-hour, which is cool, though the alterations unfortunately make Honey far less integral to the action.

It's still a great play, one of my favorites, and I salute any company with the guts to produce it … which The Summer Company has, under the direction of T. J. Fierno, with John E. Lane, Jr., and Anne Brannen as George and Martha, and Matt Robinson and Lisa Cummins as their victims … er, guests.

Whatever else it is, Woolf is a marathon, and bravo to Fierno and his company for marshaling their energy and getting through it in one piece. That may not sound like an achievement, but when both the language and the ideas are as monumental as they are here, finding a purchase and not letting go for three hours is a remarkable feat.

But there are some problems as well; the production is off-kilter. The role of Martha is the most outsized, ferocious female character in the canon -- a lioness on the prowl seeking to maul, maim and murder. Yet Brannen underplays; her Martha is a scheming, steely-eyed python. Initially it's an interesting choice, but Fierno never pushes her beyond that. Even when the script specifically calls for fireworks, this Martha remains on a slow burn. Fierno also hobbles the drive with long passages of static blocking.

That leaves Lane as George -- a character who is, we are told repeatedly, quiet and ineffectual. Lane is required to do all the dramatic heavy lifting, and he does so with consummate skill. Robinson does Nick's smarmy self-protection well, though he shies away from the carnality. Meanwhile, though this "new version" Honey is really just comic relief, Cummins is so good I was itching to see what she could have done with the original character.

 

The Summer Company performs WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? through Sat., Sept. 3. Peter Mills Theater, Rockwell Hall, Duquesne University campus. 412-243-5201.

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