Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Review by Tom Holehan

Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize winning classic, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, gets a first-rate revival at the Yale Repertory Theatre, the first professional Connecticut production of this masterpiece in over 40 years according to Artistic Director James Bundy. Bolstered by two powerhouses in the lead roles and directed by Bundy, this is a “Virginia Woolf” to savor.

George (a merely brilliant Dan Donohue) and Martha (Rene Augesen, ditto) are a long-married couple stumbling home at 2 am after a cocktail party on the campus where George is an associate history professor. Martha is the daughter of the college’s President and has belittled her husband daily for his lack of ambition. The play depicts the all-night battle royale between this fractured couple when the younger Nick and Honey, who Martha has invited over for drinks at the suggestion of her father, enter the scene. Honey (Emma Pfitzer Price) and new Biology professor Nick (Nate Janis) have no idea what they’ve walked into and over the next two acts covering three hours, they will be subjected to lies, illusions and bitter accusations and truths.

Although it was written in 1962, there is nothing really dated about this period piece. The dialogue still stings, the domestic abuse is all too real and the illusions within a marital contract can still fester and destroy. Albee’s icy dialogue and lacerating wit is in full flower here and both Donohue and Augesen attack their roles with relish. In lesser hands this very verbal play could dissolve into just hours of endless bickering, but the key performances here elevate the material to the high level it deserves and they never forget the biting humor. Donohue’s subtle passive aggressive demeanor delivers a cutting zinger every few minutes and his rejoinders sizzle and spark. Ae the blowsy and bitter Martha, Augesen finds the inner humanity of her character even while screaming obscenities and denigrating her husband. Her scotch and cigarette fueled voice is used expertly throughout.

It may not be totally the fault of Price and Janis that their Honey and Nick never quite match the lead actors in performance. Janis, in particular, seems in a different play at times with his game show host voice and one-note characterization. Price fairs better especially with her drunken scenes, but we never really get the sense that both characters should be a future George and Martha in the making. Still, the couple come through in the clutch and their final moments late in the play register effectively.

James Bundy has total command of the script and brings Albee’s words to stinging life here. Martha and George’s home is perfectly realized by designer Miguel Urbino with great details in a residence that is slowly going to seed. I loved the oblong windows that frame the front door which, beautifully lit by Jiahao (Neil) Qui, resemble a pair of all-seeing eyes. Credit to Qui’s final effect of morning light through the side windows casting dramatic shadows across the devastated figures of George and Martha. Truly haunting. In all, this is a superb production of Albee’s great play. Don’t miss it.

“Who’s Afraid Virginia Woolf?” continues at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street in New Haven, Connecticut through October 29. Masks are required at all performances. For further information, call the box office at: 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and the Stratford Crier and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.