Monday, January 24, 2011

Theatrical Review: “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Theatrical Review: “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
Written by: Edward Albee
Directed by: Jan Julia
Theatrical Review by: Paul Adam Smeltz

The Shawnee Playhouse in Shawnee on the Delaware, PA presented The Kaleidoscope Players production of Edward Albee’s “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” The play won numerous well deserved awards including the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and the 1962-63 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play. However, when it was selected for the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the award's advisory board objected to the play's controversial use of profanity and sexual themes and overruled the selection committee. Therefore, there were no Pulitzer Prize for drama awarded in 1963. Although much of the objectionable material has become passé to the modern audience, the play’s impact still resonates as it strikes a chord in the psyche of those who experience it.

As eluded to in the Director’s notes, The title of the play derives from an inscription "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Edward Albee saw written in soap on a mirror in a bar he frequented. He later said, “When I started to write the play, it cropped up in my mind again. And of course, who's afraid of Virginia Woolf means who's afraid of the big bad wolf (from the song sung in Walt Disney’s version of “The Three Pigs.”) who's afraid of living life without false illusions. And it did strike me as being a rather typical, university intellectual joke.” This joke is told throughout the play, but one can hardly find it a humorous one as it’s told in a malicious manner filled with sarcasm and anger.

The play takes place around 2am on a Sunday Morning in the home of a professor of history named George (as played by Patrick Bresnyan) and his wife Martha (as played by Chrystyna Janak). They’ve just come home from a party when Martha informs George she invited a young couple named Nick (as played by Scott Colin) and his wife Honey (as played by Liza Grando) to come over. What begins as the title of the first act of "Fun and Games" suggests as a night of a gentile get together among colleagues (Nick is a biology professor), soon evolves into an evening filled with pain and regret as revealed through the games’ titles such as "Humiliate the Host," "Get the Guests," "Hump the Hostess," and "Bringing Up Baby."

To say the play is about anger is to oversimplify the work. It is not just about anger but about all its manifestations and how they are materialized in human intercourse. It is hurtful to watch but its presentation makes it compelling. From its very first moments when George and Martha returns home, the play begins a barrage upon the senses and it never lets up. It does relent once in a while, but this is only to allow us to catch our breath as we await the next flow of physiological punches.

What makes such punches more effective is the fact the audience don’t get the feel they’re watching a play. One is taken aback how the dialogue is very natural and had no hint of being scripted. Actors don’t wait until others are finished saying their lines before they speak. It also has little regard for the audience as well. The play and its acts begins whether the audience is seated and ready for them to begin or not. There is no sense there is any separation between the audience and the characters they have come to observe. We were invited to the home of George and Martha as well and subject to their whims.

We are more than witnesses of the tools of war George and Martha are so apt at applying. We are, like Nick and Honey, pawns and fresh meat as they hurl the weapons of making distinctions and clarifications in order to keep their prey off guard and defensive. We come as Nick had come as those who proclaim we won’t become emotionally involved in the affairs of others, but we do. And, of course we do. Otherwise, why did we come at all? Wasn’t it to observe the lives of those who inhabit the play we’ve come to see? Wasn’t it to see how they ticked and tocked as they chime at one another? Are we that surprised when we’re faced with our fear of living a life without the false illusions of remaining unaffected by what we experience? When George finally asks Martha "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" One wonder how many members of the audience can refrain from echoing her response “I am.”

To say the acting was suburb would be a gross understatement. It was among the best this reviewer has ever seen on The Shawnee Playhouse or on any other stage. Every moment of the play each actor was in the moment reacting and responding to every instance that occurred on stage and in their character’s mind. The pacing enhanced the production and this is often determined by the play’s director. Kudos to director Jan Julia for establishing this realistic pace which allowed the fourth wall separating actors and audience to dissolve thereby bringing a profound sense of reality to the theatrical experience. It was disturbing, uncomfortable, and revealed more than an audience member would want to reveal to him/herself. But, damn this was good theatre.

The Shawnee Playhouse presentation of The Kaleidoscope Players production of Edward Albee’s “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf” was Directed by Jan Julia and was Stage Managed by Irene Garner who also served as part of the production’s set construction crews as assisted by Emily Cioc who also served as part of the production’s lighting set construction crews. The Lighting and Sound Technician was David Schappert who also designed the set. He and Patrick Turner, Levi and Robert Young, Bob Walz, and Marshall Haskell. The Music and Sound Technician was Don Slepian. The Production’s Costumer was Missy Benefield.

The producers of the productions presented at The Shawnee Playhouse are Ginny and Charlie Kirkwood while the group sales manager is Mary Horn. The Box Office Staff includes Chrissy McMannus while Becky Haskell serves as the playhouse’s Sales and Marketing Director. The Executive Director of The Shawnee Playhouse is Midge McClosky.

This presentation of The Kaleidoscope Players production of Edward Albee’s “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf” will conclude its run at The Shawnee Playhouse in Shawnee on the Delaware, PA on February 6th. I would recommend seeing this production who would like to face their fears of losing the illusions that define who they are. A popular song says, “You have to get to Hell before you get to Heaven” and while this play doesn’t promise a place in paradise, it does bring one to a better place by seeing it.

Future Shawnee Playhouse presentations will include The Worthington Players production of a full length play written by Larry Rossler who won their 2010 playwright competition titled, “Spanakoptia” being presented February 12th - 20th. This year’s competition is currently accepting original work until Monday January 31st with the Staged Readings for the finalist taking place March 4th, 11th, and 18th. You may obtain information regarding The Worthington Players 2011 Playwright Competition submission procedures from The Shawnee Playhouse.

Other productions include The Shawnee Playhouse productions of “Broadway on the Red Carpet” February 25th - 27th and “Branigan’s Blarney” by Rod Foote March 4th - 20th, The Worthington Players production of “The Skyscraper” by David Auburn March 25th - April 3rd, The Prestige Productions presentation of “Love, Sex, and The I. R. S.” by William Van Zant and Jane Milmore April 8th - 17th, and The Center Stage Players production of “Love Letters” by A. R. Gurney April 22nd - May 1st.

Those who enjoy the Passionate Art Lover level of membership in The Forwardian Arts Society are offered a $3.00 discount off the admission fee of The Shawnee Playhouse Productions (excluding Children Theatrical Productions and those presented by non Shawnee Production Companies). Please contact The Shawnee Playhouse at 570-421-5093 or Explore their website at for more information (including submissions for The Worthington Players 2011 Playwright Competition) and to reserve your ticket.

Photograph provided by The Shawnee Playhouse.

No comments: