PlayMakers Repertory Company’s provocative R-rated production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — prize-winning New York playwright Edward Albee’s foul-mouthed masterpiece of Contemporary Drama — is a long night’s journey into day, with frequent stops for refreshments of the alcoholic variety. The stellar four-person cast of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s professional-theater-in-residence explores the essential Truths and Illusions of life in Academia, at a backwater New England college, while two professors and their wives who get together for a nightcap after a faculty party hurl verbal hand grenades at each other.
For approximately three hours and 20 minutes (including intermission), the old married couple George and Martha (PRC crowd favorites Ray Dooley and Julie Fishell) and the newlyweds Nick and Honey (MFA candidates Brett Bolton and Katie Paxton from UNC’s Professional Actor Training Program) gloriously strut and fret upon the miraculously transformed thrust stage of the Paul Green Theatre in UNC’s Center for Dramatic Art.
Scenic designer Alexander Dodge’s truly magnificent book-lined two-storey set recreates the once swank but now soiled ambience of George and Martha’s living room — where most of the barbed badinage takes place — with George’s home office relegated to one cramped corner and a spiral staircase leading to the couple’s upstairs bedrooms in the other.
Julie Fishell is a veritable force of nature as Martha, the slatternly, scornful college president’s daughter who drowns her disappointments — with life, with marriage — in oceans of alcohol and engages in a series of drunken assignations right in front of her husband, whom she contemptuously dismisses with “I swear, if you existed, I’d divorce you.”
Ray Dooley plays George with cool calculation as a Nowhere Man, but also as a mouse who will roar when the time is right. Brett Bolton puts just the right amount of swagger into Nick; and Katie Paxton probes heretofore unexpected depths in the mousy Honey, whose hysterical pregnancy and low tolerance for alcohol make her the butt of many a cruel joke.
PlayMakers Repertory Company guest director Wendy C. Goldberg expertly orchestrates the emotional ebb and flow of this harrowing live dissection of all four characters. Goldberg not only gets the best from her talented cast; but she also ratchets up the tension, so that the show’s shattering climax rockets PRC’s opening-night patrons from their seats to reward Julie Fishell, Ray Dooley, Brett Bolton, and Katie Paxton — and the show’s director and designers — with the fervent standing ovation that they all richly deserve.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 6th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/12/06/1692117/anger-fills-a-room-in-virginia.html; Dec. 5th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5221; Dec. 4th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel review by Nick Andersen: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2011/12/nothing_to_be_afraid_of_here, Dec. 4th article by Katherine Proctor: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/blog/canvas/2011/12/woolfy_set, and Nov. 29th preview by Katelyn Trela: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2011/11/veteran_professors_play_dueling_spouses_in_whos_afraid_of_virginia_woolf; and Dec. 1st Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/16616502/article-Exposing-truth-in-‘Who’s-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf-’-?instance=main_article (Note 1: You must register first to read this article). (Note 2: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Dec. 1st Triangle Theater Review preview and Dec. 5th review, both by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/12/playmakers-mainstays-ray-dooley-and-julie-fishell-will-star-in-whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolf/.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? at 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, email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
PRC BLOG: http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: 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 2: 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 3: 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 4: There will be 10:30 a.m. Student Matinee Performance on Dec. 14th For details, click http://www.playmakersrep.org/outreach/matinees.
NOTE 5: 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 review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.