By Isa Goldberg *****
It’s astonishing to see "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" performed without a single box office star. What shines through in this revival is strictly the domestic realism. The raw truth, the tartare of marital life in a small university town somewhere in New England is the toothsome dish George (Tracy Letts) and Martha (Amy Morton) are serving their unsuspecting guests whom Martha has invited over for post party drinks at two o’clock in the morning.
As helmed by Pam MacKinnon, there is no attempt to transcend the immediate situation. In George and Martha’s den, the foursome engages in hand-to-hand combat. Wrestling, punching, vomiting, necking, and trying to screw are the events they carry out well into the wee hours of the morning.
Tracy Letts portrays George as the big bad lush who brays and carries on in the most controlling way. This is his play, and he dispenses his illusions about family life though the night of fun and games as it progresses dangerously to its revelatory outcome. This is no mere twist of directorial interpretation. Indeed, it is as literal and close to the bone Albee as one could hope to find. And Letts, a splendid George, renders an interpretation that is completely his own. Delivering the second act monologue about his prep school buddy who accidentally killed his parents, he renders a searing image of these boys in a gin mill drinking "bergin" with such exacting description that it drives the narrative. Indeed, George becomes that son, the son who we realize later is also an illusion, and who George kills off in just the way that young man in the gin mill, begging for more "bergin," killed off his own father.
In this production, it is Martha who becomes the whipping post for George. With her as the vulnerable sidekick, the two carry on a grotesque vaudeville act, focused on the primary amusement of tearing each other down. There is a vital energy between the two, but Morton as Martha just isn’t sexy in the way we’ve come to know the character as portrayed by Liz Taylor or Kathleen Turner. Her scenes with Nick (Madison Dirks), the ambitious young Biology professor, simply lack chemistry. That he can’t get it up doesn’t seem to be his fault. As for his climb to success "plowing pertinent wives," his future appears uncomfortably frustrated.
As his meek and apparently meaningless wife, Honey, Carrie Coon delves into
some surprising comedic moments, but for the most part she is separated from the action as she remains oddly fixated on her own world, breeding her own illusions about marriage, illusions that simply don’t mesh with reality.
Todd Rosenthal’s scenic design lures us into this den – a living room with a bar cart, cushy furniture and a window peering into a verdant backyard abuts a smaller room deceitfully warmed by a fireplace and with books tossed all around. There is also a stairway to nowhere, or at least no one ever goes there.
Still, in spite of the evident betrayal of marital loyalties and sacred truths that are the subject of "Virgina Woolf" there is in the end a sense of restoration. That Martha especially is brought back to the reality of her marriage – recognizing her need for George, her need to shatter her isolation, and to live within his control and protection, however savagely that is maintained, brings us to the enduring truth of their fractious domesticity.
"Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is at the Booth Theatre (222 West 45th St. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday at 7:00pm with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm and Sunday at 3:00pm. For tickets call 212-239-6200, visit Virginia Woolf on Broadway
Photography: Michael Brosilow Follow Us On Facebook