Truth and illusion, George; You don’t know the difference.
This line in the third act of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? best shows the play’s major theme: what is truth and what is fiction? What is reality and what is illusion? By the time the City of Fairfax Theatre Company’s production at Old Town Hall had ended, I sat in my seat for a few moments in a shocked state. What did I just witness?
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is considered a classic in the American theatre and with good reason. The play premiered on Broadway over 50 years ago, but still holds up very nicely. Albee’s dialogue is sharp, his characters intoxicating, and the tone is deliciously wicked.
The play is set in the early ‘60s and shows the bitter and alcohol-fueled marriage between George and Martha. Late in the evening after a faculty party at the university where George works, they receive a younger couple, Nick and Honey, who (and by extension, the audience) are drawn into their cycle of booze, frustration, bitterness, ersatz, and bewilderment.
The play is being performed at Old Town Hall in downtown Fairfax. In a 36-seat house and a set that was in the round, the space felt appropriately claustrophobic and stuffy. The audience falls down into this rabbit hole just as much as the characters do. D. Scott Graham (who also played George) designed the scenery and lighting. The stage was made to look like the living room of Martha and George’s house. The front of the stage signified the fireplace. A favorite moment of mine was an angry George going up towards the fireplace and the lighting gave him a menacing glow. A small detail that probably would go unnoticed, but that I appreciated.
The production was directed by Ed Zakreski. With the exception of some pacing issues in the beginning, the direction felt solid and unrestrained. The blurred lines of reality and illusion are definitely worked into the production, but there is more going on in this play, which Zakreski has also addressed. Societal expectations in the ‘60s also play a part in the play: the idea of a nuclear family and polite behavior in social circles. Both couples face their not-so perfect marriages in different ways and Zakreski handles it very well.
Virginia Woolf requires a really game cast, and this cast certainly brought their A-game. As the vulgar Martha, Karen Jadlos Shotts is both grand and arousing; D. Scott Graham’s George is sinister and vile; and as the young couple Nick and Honey, Mike Rudden and Stephanie Ramsey share the right confusion and naiveté in the beginning that spirals into anger and bitterness by the end.
To be blunt, this is not a fun show. The play takes a lot out of the actors and the audience, but it’s a powerful one. Zakreski and the cast have successfully presented a thought-provoking and passionate production. So, come spend the evening with George and Martha in City of Fairfax Theatre Company’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Running Time: Three hours and 15 minutes, with two 10-minute intermissions.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? plays through May 7, 2016 at City of Fairfax Theatre Company performing at The Old Town Hall – 3999 University Drive in Farfax, VA. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online.