The director of this production, Jenny Sullivan, spoke for a few moments before the start of the show about seeing the original production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway with her father in 1962, when she was just 16 years old. Regardless of how one feels about the parental judgment involved in this adventure, there’s no question that this was a play that changed many lives; those lucky enough to attend it were witnesses to theater history.
There’s a good chance people will be talking about this new Rubicon production decades from now as well. Karyl Lynn Burns gets all of the amazing, incorrigible Martha dialogue, and Joe Spano is mesmerizing in what has to be one of the greatest performances of the role of George ever. Jason Chanos is sharp and convincing as Nick, the young biologist and stud who Martha sets her sights on, and Angela Goethals is terrific as Honey, his “wifey mouse.”
Despite the fact that this is one of the best-known American plays of all time, it is probably only fair to give potential audience members an idea of what to expect. One can only imagine what it must have been like back in 1962 for the small handful of people who arrived at the theater without the slightest preconception of what they were about to see. The entire play takes place in the living room of a book-filled old house on the campus of a New England college. The action takes place late at night-it’s after 2 a.m. when things get rolling, and they keep at it until dawn. Martha’s father is the president of the college, and she is used to getting things, including the copious amounts of alcohol she consumes, mostly her way. George, at first shocked that Martha has invited the younger couple over for a nightcap, gradually warms to the situation and in the end serves as the evening’s impresario, identifying and initiating many of the games that get played as things go from bad to worse.
Albee has made it clear that this three-hour, three-act drama is to be seen as a love story rather than a tragedy, and, for most of the first two acts, the cast plays it for laughs. Spano and Burns are great sparring partners, and their repartee lights up the stage from the opening bell. The guests are very nearly as effective, especially when Goethals is called upon to give one of Honey’s hysterically funny physical turns. Sullivan has brought off another triumph, and this ought to be seen as one of the year’s outstanding achievements.