You can’t watch even two minutes of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff” without asking if there isn’t too much alcohol in this family portrait? The play is not about an alcoholic episode. It IS an alcoholic episode in full bloom. The right question, however, is what is the difference between intimidation and intimacy? Underneath all the alcoholic frenzy, is there also a kind of love?
Director James Bundy has given us a remarkably precise production, true to Albee’s notes on how this late-night soiree should proceed. The four-character cast includes a powerhouse Rene Augesen as Martha, Dan Donahue as the unhappy and often sadistic George, Nate Janis as the young Biologist and faculty newcomer Nick, and Emma Pfitzer Price as Honey – Nick’s wife. The four work so well together that they might be considered an ensemble, and in fact the script calls for so much interaction between them that it would be foolish to pick one as lead and another as supporter.
After a faculty party given by Martha’s father, who is the president of a small New England College, Nick and Honey accept Martha’s invitation to visit with George and herself in their home, also on Campus. (Miguel Urbino did the scenic design, which includes bookshelves, the front door, a hallway to the bathroom and kitchen and stairs leading to a bedroom and bath upstairs, as well as a sofa and several chairs that invite conversation. The all-important bar cart with an ice bucket is stage-right, close to the audience).
Martha prompts George to make her a drink and they bicker about why she invited guests so late at night, but when the guests arrive there is that sort of dialogue about where folks ‘grew up’ and how they met and decided to marry. Martha take Honey upstairs to freshen up and returns in a relaxed outfit. More drinks are poured, and Honey feels sick and runs to the bathroom, where she stays for a while, curled up on the tile floor. By this time several pieces of otherwise private personal secrets have been shared. One from Martha to Honey; the other from Nick to George.
Those secrets will be probed and extruded before the play ends, always steamed in an alcoholic mist, causing pain and shock and finally some relief. As Nick and Honey depart, they are wiser and partially healed. As George and Martha are left alone, they are in an intimate encounter that nevertheless hurts all the way through.
Congratulations all around for this excellent production.