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"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" show #840

The Geffen Playhouse is doing Thespis’s work in blessing West Coast audiences with this stirring, stellar production of Albee’s famed, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The casting, direction, and technical work are in lock-step, breathing fresh takes and dynamic deliveries to this canonical classic.

(Cast of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Photo credit: Jeff Lorch)

Under Gordon Greenberg’s outstanding direction, the three-act drama of games, exorcisms, and drinking is staged with a pace that has binge-like flavor, appealing to audiences who are used to watching these sorts of dramas in a gulp on Netflix. However, at no time does Greenberg’s attention to detail, both with the acting and support of his technical team’s designs, fail the messages Albee’s text communicates. Zachary Quinto is a spine-tingling George, lambasting Calista Flockhart’s Martha with the appearance of deep-seated love covered in a bourbon-infused coating. Quinto and Flockhart share a palpable chemistry which shines through the games, the abuses, and the touting. Flockhart, specifically, gives Martha a triumphant performance in showing just how much she cares for George through proud smiles while Quinto marches around the living room pontificating and ranting his reads on the younger couple, Nick and Honey. Greenberg’s marathon staging of Flockhart and Quinto gives very little PDA unless reserved for shock value—for Nick and Honey, that is—and for the very final moments of the intimate final exit. His direction is complemented highly by Steve Rankin’s intense fight choreography and Mia Schachter’s nuanced intimacy direction.

(Graham Phillips (Nick) and Aimee Carerro (Honey); Photo credit: Jeff Lorch)

Aimee Carerro is a charming, bubbly Honey who possess the skills to let the audience enjoy what an excess of brandy can do to one who doesn’t often drink. Greenberg’s use of the sitting areas is satisfyingly effective as the myriad locations Honey passes out on, adding some warmth to how intoxicatedly comfortable Honey feels in George and Martha’s home. Graham Phillips is dynamite as Nick, the up-and-coming teacher at the local university’s Biology department. Phillips gives his Nick a no-holds-barred dose of confrontation when going toe-to-toe with George, and even Martha. Though Flockhart’s spewing of Nick being a house boy when he can’t perform in a way that is expected, Phillips doesn’t hold back when expressing Nick’s frustrations. The poignant moments come across when he and Carrero makes side comments about each other’s tolerances and behavior throughout the evening. Greenberg’s shaping of Nick and Honey leaves little doubt that, unlike George and Martha, there is next to no future for this newly-married couple.

(Cast of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?; Photo credit: Jeff Lorch)

Upon entering the Geffen Playhouse theater, the audience is greeted with a busy living room, filled with books, throw pillows, and lamps. Wilson Chin leaves no scenic detail out, imbuing the production with a sense of academia and hysteria. The tight hallway leading from the living room to the bathroom where Honey spends a fair amount of Acts two and three is appropriately narrow-sized for the frantic nature by which the cast must run through it. Elizabeth Harper’s lighting provides an eeriness which a proper …Virginia Woolf? requires, giving that late-night/early-morning feel through the windows and shading where the lamps—intentionally—don’t illuminate key areas as brightly as others. The overall feeling of how lived-in and comfortable George and Martha are in their home is exquisitely captured.

(Callista Flockhart (Martha); Photo credit: Jeff Lorch)

If nothing else, this work is a timeless commentary on relationships, marriage, and ambition. However, Greenberg’s direction pulls no punches with the shock value this play still delivers and this production is a revelatory modern staging. If you have the chance to catch the now extended production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? then do so. Enjoy the games and get the guests!

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