L-R: Zachary Quinto, Aimee Carrero, Graham Phillips, and Calista Flockhart in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Geffen Playhouse. Directed by Gordon Greenberg. | Credit: Justin Bettman

The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles presents Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, with masterful performances by Zachery Quinto as George and Calista Flockhart as Martha. George and Martha are a middle-aged couple in New England in this classic work. He works at the university, and she’s the university president’s daughter. Martha invites a new professor and his wife over for a nightcap after a faculty party. This unwitting young couple is caught in the crossfire of George and Martha’s abusive emotional games as they drink far too much and taunt each other mercilessly.

This play about dysfunctional marriage was written by Edward Albee in the early 1960s, coinciding with the absurdist theater movement (as opposed to naturalism on stage) — which explains a lot. The fights are circular and often inundated with illusions and falsehoods, leaving huge questions at the end of the performance as to what version of the truth George and Martha are spinning throughout the play.

The actors are so engrossed in their roles as warring lovers that one expects violence to break out at any moment. They keep the tension at its peak for the entirety of their performances. It’s an exceedingly well-written play, fast and witty and piercingly cruel. By the time the young couple can extract themselves from the situation, it’s been three hours of this circus. It becomes clear that while George and Martha have wild contempt for each other, there’s love there as well. They have a partnership that, while complicated and disquieting, seems to work for them since both seem to enjoy their twisted emotional competitions — especially when they have an audience.

Directed by Gordon Greenberg, everything about this production alludes to dysfunction and the wavering between manic glory at winning an argument and the desperation of loss. From the slanted ceilings that give the small stage a feeling of the askew to the mess in the apartment from broken glasses and destroyed flower arrangements, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf offers conflict, confusion, and chaos in an excellently produced theatrical package.

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