WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
by Edward Albee
ONSTAGE in Bedford
Director - Derek Whitener
Stage Manager - Devon Miller
Asst. Stage Manager – Kathryn Marby
Set Designer – Kevin Brown
Costume Designer – Victor Newman Brockwell
Lighting Designer – Michael B. Winters
Sound Designer – Kevin Brazil
Properties Designer – Kristin Burgess
Movement Specialist – Larry Borero
Fight Choreographer – Jason Leyva
Master Carpenter – Jim Scroggins
Sound & Light Board Operator – Devon Miller
Weapon Design – Jason Cox
Artistic Director – Michael B. Winters
Martha – Rose Anne Holman
George – Seth Johnstone
Nick – Branden A. Loera
Honey – Robin Clayton
Reviewed Performance: 9/3/2016
Reviewed by Scott Hazard, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
I’ll step right out there and say that most anyone who considers him or herself a ‘theatre person’ is a fan, or is at least keenly aware, of Edward Albee’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?. This 1962 play, also made into a popular movie in 1966, is a marvel of Albee’s look into the dark, dank side of humanity, human relationships and the human form in general.
The play centers around the turbulent and violent relationship between middle-aged couple, George and Martha. While some scholars say that this play examines the breakdown of George and Martha’s marriage, others say the play is a slice, a moment in time in their marriage and does not spell the end. As George and Martha are purely awful to each other, the audience is left thinking that this is just another day in the life of these characters in this Albee masterpiece.
George and Martha are joined at their home, after a party that has already lasted until 2 AM, by Nick and Honey. Nick is a new professor at the college where George teaches in the History department and at which Martha’s father is the college president. George and Martha choose to put on a show for their guests in the sense that they act out their very mean-spirited, seemingly common, ill feelings toward each other and create a number of games and illusions for their guests to witness, drawing the guests into their own demented ways. By the end of the night, which is actually early morning, the guests are not only completely drawn in, but now are visibly shaken and scarred by the brutality that is the relationship between George and Martha. In keeping with Albee’s reality of life, the younger couple also reveals their flaws in ways that drive the story and build on the drama already present on stage. This play is not for the feint of heart. There is a LOT of yelling, cursing and generally ill spirit filling the air. If you enjoy a juicy drama, you will love this play.
ONSTAGE in Bedford’s production of this play was apparently not without some drama of its own. During the curtain speech, theatre president Mike Hathaway announced that the actors playing George and Martha, Seth Johnston and Rose Anne Holman, had joined the cast only a week prior to opening. George and Martha are two of the most complex and demanding characters in modern theatre today. For an actor to take on a role like this a week out is a HUGE undertaking. For half of the cast to be inserted into a show like this a week out is generally unheard of. The average rehearsal period for a show like this is 4-6 weeks, so new additions a week out require an immense amount of work from the new cast members as well as a lot of adapting and adjusting from the existing cast members. This is a true ensemble cast in that sense and, again, to insert two new people a week away from opening is a giant feat and an even larger gamble on the quality of the production overall.
This play is centered around drinking heavily. Anyone who has done theatre will tell you two things about playing an intoxicated character: 1) it is easy to overplay, go too far, and lose the intended effect and 2) it is akin to speaking with a British (or any other) accent on stage… once you start it, you absolutely MUST stick with it and not stray from it or the effect will be lost and the audience will be confused or even annoyed.
Rose Anne Holman as Martha was strong, just mean enough and very believable in this role. She played well with George. The two have a nice chemistry on stage. Her interactions with the other characters, primarily Nick, at times did not seem as natural and at ease, but were still very good. Holman’s portrayal of intoxication was spot on. Her character is a veteran drinker and that was played perfectly as she was intoxicated but clearly has plenty of experience in holding herself together during such times and maintaining her composure, twisted as that composure may be. It was said during the curtain speech that Holman has played this role before. That certainly helps, but still she did a great job on such short prep time.
Seth Johnston as George was also quite strong. Johnston had the mannerisms, the passive-aggressive tone and the overall character of George down in rock-solid fashion. Johnston carried a script during this performance. This is unfortunate as the script in hand is somewhat distracting and the audience is left wondering if his pauses are for dramatic effect or if he is catching up on lines. That said, Seth Johnston proves that he is absolutely fearless as an actor in taking this role a week from opening. To describe the complexities of playing this role from the beginning, much less joining the cast so late, is a completely separate review that would stand on its own. Johnston displays a high level of talent in his hurried preparation for and spot-on execution of the character of George. He, too, made good use of his character’s intoxication, not going too far at all, but playing it on a slightly-increasing, yet still lucid, plane. Seth Johnston punched the right words and withdrew at the perfect times to make his character rich, deep and precisely what it was intended to be.
Brandon A. Loera played a believable Nick. His interactions with Martha seemed a bit forced at times, beyond the intended dysfunction between the two characters. This is most likely a result of the casting change made so late in the rehearsal process. His interactions with George were solid and he is very believable in this role as the young professor and the husband of Honey. Loera played the intoxication well.
Honey, my personal favorite character in this show, is played by Robin Clayton. Honey is deeply transformed and affected by the events of this night and Robin Clayton showed us exactly that. In a play where nothing really happens and the characters don’t seem to undergo large, noticeable transformations, Honey is the one who does undergo a change. Her well-played reactions to the heavy drinking are only part of her transformation. The stark difference in her character upon her first entrance and when she and Nick finally leave (escape) the house is a transformation that is commonly discussed in academic writings. Robin Clayton plays this character beautifully… the seeming innocence, the raging bull that lies just below the surface and the sub-textual desire to mask her many flaws are a tricky combination that takes a deep effort to portray.
Technical aspects of this show are well done. The set, the home of George and Martha, designed by Kevin Brown and propped by Kristin Burgess, is just right in its state of disarray and overall messiness brought about by years of late-night heavy drinking sessions and not really caring enough about life in general to take pride in one’s home. The costumes by designer Victor Newman Brockwell fit the era and, again, the seeming lack of desire by George and Martha to put on a respectable front, while Honey and Nick are dressed much better as they are not the jaded, at times drone-like characters of George and Martha. The lighting, designed by Michael B, Winters is a general wash as there are no set changes or specials involved. The lighting does get darker and shadows emerge as the play progresses, which is a nice touch in furthering the mood of the story by use of technical design.
In a play like this, the blocking (movement of the characters) is very important because one’s movements are directly tied to one’s mindset and motivations. This show employed a Movement Specialist in Larry Borero. This was a smart move on behalf of director Derek Whitener. The characters’ movements on stage were all very fitting and it was noticeable to me that this was an important part of their overall character development strategy, so kudos to specialist Borero and director Whitener for taking the time to make this seemingly small detail, but in reality not at all a small detail, an issue.
Dramatic moments in the play are highlighted with background music. At some points, the music takes on a character of its own. Selections of the music are very fitting by Sound Designer Kevin Brazil. At times the music seems to be a bit louder than needed under the dialogue, but the dialogue was still understandable from my seat in this small theatre.
Overall, this production is solid and will only get better as the run progresses. After seeing what Rose Anne Holman and Seth Johnston did in such a short time, my guess is that Johnston will get that script out of his hand and nail down the smallest of details in the character of George, as will the interactions improve between some of the characters that do not seem to be fully developed yet. The scenes where chaos takes over and everyone is yelling over the other while still maintaining a conversation are very, very well done. It is clear that those particular scenes have been worked stringently over the past week because those scenes are difficult to play without becoming a simple and meaningless “screamfest.” Very nice job on those scenes.
If you love a good drama, go see this show. If you are pressed for time, you will need to carve out 3.5 hours. Fortunately, the seating at ONSTAGE in Bedford is comfy. This is a three act show and it is long because Albee had a LOT to say about the human condition in 1962. Albee’s message in this show is timeless and the portrayals of the complex characters in ONSTAGE in Bedford’s production would please him I think.
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
ONSTAGE in Bedford, 2821 Forest Ridge Dr., Bedford TX 76021
Plays through September 18th
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM. Sunday Matinees at 3PM. Tickets: $19.99 – Discounts available for students, seniors and Bedford residents. Visit www.onstageinbedford.com or call (817) 354-6444. ASL interpretation is provided during the first Saturday performance of the run of each show at ONSTAGE in Bedford