Steppenwolf Theatre presents
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINA WOOLF?
At 1650 N. Halsted
Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm
Running Time: Three hours and fifteen minutes with two intermissions
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
‘Hump the Host’ and ‘Get the Guest’ are not bored games for drinkers. At Martha and George’s house, participants are forced to play. The rules of the game are ever changing. The only defense is to get liquored up. Steppenwolf Theatre presents WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINA WOOLF? Pulitzer Prize and Tony-Award winning playwright Edward Albee pours a generous round of marriages on the rocks. Martha’s father is the college president. Martha’s husband is a history professor. Martha’s target is the new biology professor. Martha’s competition is the guy’s slim-hipped wife. Martha’s biggest obstacle is George. In a continuous tit-for-tat, Martha and George attack each other with sniper expertise. With twenty plus years of wedded dysfunction, there are no lovers’ quarrels. WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? is a spat that splats into a super-mega smack-down.
Albee magnificently balances his characters between absurdly horrible and vulnerable. The dialogue is deliciously clever and wicked. The stories within the story are realistically true and illusion. Under the direction of Pam MacKinnon, the talented ensemble sees how far to go and goes farther. Tracy Letts (George) and Amy Morton (Martha) spar with escalating accuracy. It’s a playful jab, a mean right hook and then an unexpected sharp knee to the groin. Letts and Morton uninhibitedly flaunt their personal disdain for each other. Letts is especially exceptional going from shrew-pecked victim to instigator of mean-spirited entertainment. A red-faced Letts is perversely gleeful in his understated rage. Morton rants ‘loud and vulgar’ as she spirals out-of control without George’s interference. Morton’s aftermath is poignant defenselessness. The butt of much abuse, Carrie Coon (Honey) slurs with intoxicating hilarity. Madison Dirks (Nick) charms with polished despicability playing to win. The barbed banter brays with quotable quenching absurdity. The trashed trash talking is straight-up enthralling.
‘What a dump?’ Scenic designer Todd Rosenthal uses details to furnish an authentic look. Door chimes, a lead glass foyer window, a dark walnut staircase, the special touches suggest an older, established house. Heaps of magazines and books and discarded glasses litter for a lived-in homey look. It’s picture perfect for sharing an after-party libation with newcomers. That illusion adds a layer of deception to the war games already in progress. The house is a camouflaged bunker under fire. Liquor numbs the pain between attacks. Under the influence of Albee, this fifty-year old aged show served neat with MacKinnon, Letts and Morton has an unforgettably, smooth finish for even the most discriminating palate. WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? The only fear YOU should have is missing last call!
A man with a critical nature, Joshua Volkers describes the show with ‘Phenomenal!’
SPECIAL NOTE TO CELL PHONE USERS: I’m tired of hearing theatres request cell phones be turned off. Because what kind of idiot would leave their phone on during a live performance? In the last couple of months, two idiots have had phones ring during pivotal scenes including my WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? You are not only horribly disrespectful to the actors, you break the connection for the audience. In Martha’s words, ‘You make me puke!’ If you can’t be responsible, leave your phone at home, ‘cluck’!
Production photo courtesy of Michael Brosilow.