Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
by Edward Albee
Directed by Iain Sinclair
Photos by Prudence Upton
Ensemble Theatre until June 18
Reviewed by Ron Lee, CSP
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? first came to our attention in 1966 as the film version starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis. The black drama won five Academy Awards.
George is in the History faculty of a university, and sporting a small beard, brown shoes, brown pants, brown shirt, brown tie and brown cardigan, his career stalled years ago. George is married to the free- spirited Martha, the daughter of the university’s Principal. The middle-aged couple arrive home in the early hours after a university party. George is about to go to bed when Martha informs him that she has invited Nick, the new member of the Science faculty, and his wealthy wife, Honey, back for a nightcap.
When the younger pair arrive, the games and rituals begin. Martha and George have created the psychological, social games as a way of adding interest to an otherwise stale and stagnant marriage.
Having not seen it as a play, and the movie was long ago, I had forgotten how clever Albee’s writing is. There is the sense that, because George’s character is more complex than the others, he could have been the playwright. George’s script could not have been easy to learn and remember, and Darren Gilshenan is superb in an almost Machiavellian manipulation of the younger characters and his frustration with his wife.
Brandon McClelland as Nick and Claire Lovering’s Honey provide excellent foils to their older parallels. Hesitant at the beginning, Nick and Honey gradually reveal their true selves as the alcoholic truth sera bring down the barriers.
As Martha, Genevieve Lemon is phenomenal. When I first saw Lemon in the 1980s at The Rocks Players (it might have been in The Australia Show), I identified her as an actor whose career would be worth following, and there hasn’t been a production since in which she hasn’t been brilliant, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Steaming and beyond. However, in Virginia Woolf, Lemon surpasses even her high standard. To maintain a drunken Medea-like intensity for almost three hours requires massive stamina, concentration and presence, and Lemon nailed it.
Continually amazing is the way in which the Ensemble set designers can create performance spaces in the small area. This time, Michael Hankin’s house of academics, complete with a full staircase, looks far more expansive than the reality.
Director Iain Sinclair has masterfully brought together the elements of a fine cast and brilliantly-written script to create a production that requires precise timing and delivery. I’d be hard-pressed to find room for improvement.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is one of the Ensemble Theatre’s triumphs.