You Might Need to Be a Little Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? sorta kinda grabs that void with both hands and shoves it in front of your face so mercilessly that you sorta kinda want to leave. But, you won’t be able to avert your eyes until you see it all through.

I am embarrassingly behind the times when it comes to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And these “times” I speak of have been around for almost fifty years. I knew about it, of course, from various black and white college textbook stills of Elizabeth Taylor, face contorted with rage. Well, it looked interesting and all that, but maybe something inside of me was whispering, “Shhhhh, go enjoy yourself now with your Almost Famous,” or whatever we were watching in those days. “Go enjoy yourself, I said! And then later on when you’re more settled, you can start to stare into the sickening, unforgiving void that is human relationships.”

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which first opened on Broadway in 1962, sorta kinda grabs that void with both hands and shoves it in front of your face so mercilessly that you sorta kinda want to leave. But, like the unfortunate young couple who have stumbled upon the marriage of George and Martha, you won’t be able to avert your eyes until you see it all through. The play is excellent, of course, and it exposes all sorts of gory things about human nature, but as I came in at the end of the play’s run by the Firehouse Theatre Project, and as the last two shows are sold out anyway, I’ll use this opportunity to talk to you about Firehouse itself.

Because, fellow folks who enjoy doing things with their evenings, they have three more productions on deck for this season, and I suggest you buy tickets for all of them.

Three actors drunkenly lurch about the thoroughly detailed set on the little Firehouse stage so well that you’re quite shocked when they stride out for their curtain calls at the end, sober as prettily costumed judges. Jonathan Conyers plays new faculty member, Nick, Amy Sproul is his wife, who’s only ever called “Honey,” and the alarmingly good Laine Satterfield is the goggling, liquor-soaked Martha. Her husband, George (played by Larry Cook) is also a faculty member at the same university, and Martha happens to be the daughter of the university president. Though George doesn’t stumble or slur, and his eyes don’t seem to have trouble focusing, he’s had just as much to drink as the rest of them, and in fact, I would have enthusiastically applauded if they’d brought the set’s liquor cart out to take a bow, as it sure had been put through its paces. They’re all lit, but it’s only the other three that show it.

And boy, do they. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a really, really good production in which the acting is so natural that I can’t visualize the script on the page. Satterfield is electric, and her desperate, vulgar energy is only ever really complemented by Sproul’s pastel, naive good nature. Conyers is only slightly less engaging as the former corn-fed quarterback/biology prodigy that loves his wife but is open to having an agenda. It’s only Cook who makes me feel conflicted. Is it the nature of the George character to drone pedantically in measured, rehearsed sentences while everyone else struggles to focus through their brandy haze? I imagine that’s somewhat true, but at times, Cook’s delivery felt more like a narration, a very crisply emphasized recitation of a lot of cutting remarks that someone else made up and stuck into a script.

Such quality casting with such tight direction by Rusty Wilson were only enhanced by the advantages of the cozy, well-done setting of the Firehouse Theatre. While rain poured down on the roof above us, the 100 or so audience members sat utterly still, enjoying the intense quality of the production before us and suspending our disbelief with no trouble at all.

This could be you! The 2010-2011 season will offer Love Kills by Kyle Jarrow, Dog Sees God by Bert V. Royal, and Something Intangible by Bruce Graham. If any of these are half as good as Woolf, you’ll get your money’s worth. For more information, check out the Firehouse website.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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