PlayMakers Repertory Company mainstays Ray Dooley and Julie Fishell will exchange verbal brickbats as George and Martha in PRC’s provocative production of prize-winning New York playwright Edward Albee’s epic R-rated 1962 Battle of the Sexes, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, on Nov. 30-Dec. 4 and Dec. 6-11 and 13-18 in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art.
George is an embittered middle-aged associate history professor at small New England college; and his slatternly wife, Martha, is the equally embittered daughter of the college’s president. At a faculty party, the hard-drinking, verbally abusive pair is on their best behavior when they meet a much-younger couple — biology professor Nick (Brett Bolton) and his mousy, brandy-swilling wife, Honey (Katie Paxton) — and invite them home for drinks, setting the stage for a Walpurgisnacht that leaves no one unscathed.
“I first read this play in college at the University of Michigan in a survey course of American Drama,” recalls Brooklyn, NY director Wendy C. Goldberg. “After being introduced to Edward Albee’s work at that time, I knew I wanted to work with American playwrights in my future and pursue a career in the theater.”
She adds, “I have never directed a production of this play, but have directed Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?  and The Lady from Dubuque , both at Arena Stage in Washington DC.”
Now in her eighth season as artistic director of the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, which won the 2010 Tony Award® for Outstanding Regional Theater, Wendy Goldberg says, “[Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?] is, and remains, one of the most difficult, shocking and compelling pieces in the American Theater. I have always wanted a chance to work on it. It’s an epic symphony for actors, and it is a challenge for any director to take it on.
“When [PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director] Joe Haj asked me to come down and direct it, I really jumped at the chance,” says Goldberg.
She adds, “The play takes place one evening in the home of George and Martha on the campus of a small liberal arts school on the East Coast. Martha has invited Nick and Honey — a new couple on the faculty — over for a nightcap. What ensues is a night of emotionally fueled games, as everyone battles to keep their wits and their sense of identity and sanity intact.”
Goldberg claims, “[Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?] is about learning to live with truths as opposed to creating illusions. The play takes place in 1962 at the height of Cold War sexual and intellectual politics.”
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? made its Broadway debut, directed by Alan Schneider, on Oct. 13, 1962 at the Billy Rose Theatre, where it played for 664 performances before closing on May 16, 1964. The show starred Uta Hagen as Martha, Arthur Hill as George, Melinda Dillon (making Broadway debut) as Honey, and George Grizzard as Nick. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won the 1963 Tony Award® for Best Play (Edward Albee), Best Direction of a Play (Alan Schneider), Best Producer of a Play (Richard Barr and Clinton Wilder), Best Actor in Play (Arthur Hill), and Best Actress in a Play (Uta Hagen). Melinda Dillon was also nominated for the Best Featured Actress in a Play Tony.
The 1966 black-and-white motion-picture version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, directed by Mike Nichols from a screenplay by Eric Lehman, starred Elizabeth Taylor as Martha, Richard Burton as George, George Segal as Nick, and Sandy Dennis as Honey. The director and screenwriter and all four actors earned six of the film’s thirteen 1967 Academy Award nominations. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won five awards, including the Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Elizabeth Taylor) and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Sandy Dennis).
In addition to director Wendy Goldberg and PlayMakers Repertory Company producing artistic director Joseph Haj, UNC-Chapel Hill’s professional-theater-in-residence’s creative team for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? includes assistant director Kristen Parker, production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer Alexander Dodge, lighting designer Josh Epstein, costume designer Jade Bettin, sound designer/engineer Ryan J. Gastelum, dramaturg Greg Cable, and stage manager Charles K. Bayang.
“This is one of most difficult plays in the American canon, due to its demands on the actors and director,” claims director Wendy Goldberg. “The main challenge is to keep the storytelling — and the emotional realities of the characters — truthful as well as engaging. There are many significant stories being told about each one of the characters over the course of the evening.
“As a director,” Goldberg says, “it is my responsibility to make certain the stories are indeed clear. The main challenge here is making sure the emotional arcs are constantly compelling and truthful.”
She notes, “The play was written for a proscenium-stage presentation, so I worked hard with my scenic designer, Alexander Dodge, to make sure that we can keep the same sort of containment and compression on the large thrust stage here at PlayMakers. We also made some new design choices that take this play slightly out of its typical completely naturalistic environment.”
Goldberg adds, “I was influenced by the original stage director of the play, Alan Schneider, who also said that this piece could afford to be staged in a non-naturalistic setting. My hope is that we’ve created a sort of hybrid environment that will both allow the audience to place the play at this small New England school in the early 1960s, but also create a larger metaphor and comment about the entire world of this play. I’m excited to share this vision and idea.”
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 29th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel preview by Katelyn Trela: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2011/11/veteran_professors_play_dueling_spouses_in_whos_afraid_of_virginia_woolf.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30-Dec. 2 Previews, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 Opening Night, 2 p.m. Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 6-9, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10, 2 p.m. Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13-17, and 2 p.m. Dec. 18 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $10-$35, except $45 Opening Night show and reception of Dec. 3rd , $10 UNC Student Rush Tickets (sold one hour before show), and 10 percent discount for seniors 60+ and children under 18.
BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/843-2311, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
PRC BLOG: http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: At 7 p.m. on Dec. 5th, director Wendy C. Goldberg will be the featured speaker at a special FREE “In the Wings” program at main branch of the Durham County Library, 300 N. Roxboro St., Durham, NC 27701. For directions, click http://www.durhamcountylibrary.org/locations/main_directions.php.
NOTE 2: On Dec. 7th and 11th, there will be FREE post-performance discussions with representatives of the show’s creative team, including designers, production staff, and/or actors.
NOTE 3: Dec. 7-10 and Dec. 14-17, PlayMakers Rep and The Carolina Inn (http://www.carolinainn.com/), 211 Pittsboro St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516, will team up to provide a “An Evening Out with The Carolina Inn” $75 per person, which includes a delicious three-course dinner prepared by award-winning chef Jimmy Reale and served at 5:30 p.m., transportation to the theater, and a ticket to a 7:30 performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? To make a reservation, telephone 919/918-2715 or click 12daysevents.com.
NOTE 4: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 7:30 p.m. Dec. 13th show, which will also be sign-language interpreted. PlayMakers‘ provides assisted listening devices at all shows; but at its “All Access” performances, PRC also provides assisted Braille playbills and can arrange tactile tours of the set (with prior notice).
NOTE 5: There will be 10:30 a.m. Student Matinee Performance on Dec. 14th For details, click http://www.playmakersrep.org/outreach/matinees.
NOTE 6: The Lucy Daniels Foundation (http://www.ldf.org/home/) and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society (http://www.ncpsasoc.org/) will sponsor “Mindplay: A 50-minute Hour,” a FREE psychoanalytic discussion led by William Meyer, MSW, after the 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17th and 2 p.m. Dec. 18th performances.
The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who%27s_Afraid_of_Virginia_Woolf%3F (Wikipedia) and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=9341 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Playwright Edward Albee: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Albee (Wikipedia).
The Film: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who’s_Afraid_of_Virginia_Woolf?_(film) (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061184/ (Internet Movie Database).
Director Wendy C. Goldberg: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendy_C._Goldberg (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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