Many years ago, when the world was young, and I was in college, I became the third president of a (revived) experimental theater group, and found myself in the remarkable position of having a small budget and the opportunity to direct a play of my choosing. I picked Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which I thought then was one of the best American plays. Period. I still do.
On Friday, October 5, I got to see the Steppenwolf production, scheduled to open on October 13.
The play is beautiful--a tough-minded, production which pulls no punches, with the caustic humor, casual cruelty, and rising tension that I experienced when I first read the script in Modern American Drama, as taught by John V. Antush.
Amy Morton does the near-impossible with Martha--she brays, she's loud, abrasive, bullying, yes, but the vulnerability, the hurt, the self loathing and love for her husband buried so deeply within her are as real, and as believable, as is the over-the-top virago. It's an extraordinary performance of a character that can come off all too easily as cliche (it never was, but has been imitated enough to be perceived as such) or as too written. Morton lives the character.
George as portrayed by Tracy Letts has reserves of strengths buried deep behind the exhaustion, the self-pity and the anger without an outlet. He's just great. (In an interesting choice, his final words to Nick do not contain the softening, the hint of forgiveness, I've seen in other performances. This George is tougher and harder at the core than others. It brings into relief the depth of his commitment to Martha, and her own perceptiveness in noting the self-hatred which they share, and which holds him to her as much as any other emotion.)
Even Nick and Honey, who often fade into the background, are given stunning, pulsing life by Madison Dirks and Carrie Coon. Ms. Coon turns Honey, often one of the most thankless roles in theater into a (minor) games-player herself, someone who is not entirely unaware of the power she wields over Nick--not in his league as a manipulator, and more innocent than his pilot fish, let alone the two senior sharks in the water with her, but not as helpless as all that.
It's an extraordinary night of theater, well worth your time.
Here are two appetizers:
(My production? Oh, never opened, I'm afraid. The rights fell through, and the whole thing had to be scrapped. But, oh, what a pleasure it was to work with the fine young actors who were willing to go there with me, and how very good they were. We found another project to do that year, and, despite the disappointment, the still-nascent group survived my failure to pull off the show. Now go see the real thing, willya?)