Total War. Total.

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The positively chilling work going on right now in the Steppenwolf’s revival of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” isn’t news to anyone. At the very least, not anyone reading theater-blogs.

The epic emotional juggernaut is enough to exhaust even the most resilient of viewers, leaving me red-eyed and numb hours after the fact…and anxious to head back in for more.

Emotionally masochistic much?

As a huge fan of the classic film, and to a lesser extent the vigorous Bill Irwin/Kathleen Turner Broadway revival that toured in Chicago in 2007, I had been eagerly anticipating the Morton-Letts collaboration since the scintillating promo shots of the caustic couple first appeared.

As an actor, it must seem predictable for me to say that certain plays are particularly “for actors”, by which I mean the characters are so compelling and multifaceted that performers have plenty of room for analysis and experimentation. There are countless ways to tackled George and Martha.

Which is what makes Tracy Letts and Amy Morton so spectacular to behold: their interpretations of such iconic figures are so fresh, it’s like witnessing Albee’s piece for the very first time.

Letts’ George is cryptic and dangerous, hiding a maniac beneath a veneer of dweebish uneasiness. Commonly played as the quietly cunning counterpart to Martha’s abrasive boozehound, Letts instead opts for raging genius with an obvious personality disorder.

Morton’s Martha is more vulnerable than usual, almost a peacekeeper of sorts. Don’t get me wrong, she’s just as quick-to-cut as you’d expect, but there are moments (even before the heavy warfare begins) when you sense she wants to call the whole night quits and just curl up in bed. It’s George who thirsts for blood. I mean, at times I was actually experiencing feelings of protection towards Martha. MARTHA?!

Not to pontificate…but MY GOD, THIS is WHY we go to the theatre! To FEEL! To have AN EXPERIENCE! Not simply to view, but to suffer and rejoice and participate in proceedings that will never occur exactly the same way ever again!

Oh, and it’s really funny, too.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is playing at Steppenwolf Theatre Company until February 13th.

Filed under: Steppenwolf Theatre

Tags: @talkedabout

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