Relationship struggles—they monopolize today’s “news” headlines more so than national and international stories that can affect us greater as a whole. Just in the past 72 hours we’ve learned Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, as well as Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick, split ways. The latter of the couples even played out their contentious rapport for the world to see—from their numerous alcohol-fueled arguments to rearing their children on reality TV.
This voyeuristic look into the depths of another’s union is pretty normal in 2015’s celebrity-centric/public-figure culture, but in 1962 when Edward Albee premiered his play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on Broadway, it was quite a groundbreaking experience. He showcased a different view of what took place with a couple behind closed doors—to the point it questioned societal standards of the happy-go-lucky husband and wife painted in the ’50s and ’60s lifestyle.
Based on his own friends, who were professors and New York socialites, Albee constructed his main characters, Martha and George, in a functioning, abusive relationship—one that his lovers thrive in being a part of. Albee wrote rapid-fire speech so the audience literally feels every word burn aggressively. He standardizes the simplest of tasks, such as Martha asking for a drink, as an assault of entitlement, marked by a dictatorship of twists and turns. Plain conversations, such as talking about the title of a photograph, turn to bickering, which inevitably become volatile through words and actions.
The plot of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is relatively simple: Martha and George return from a party at the college where George works after one-too-many drinks. Unbeknownst to George, Martha asks two youngsters, Nick and Honey, back to their home for late-night cocktails. Nick and Honey bear witness to the couple’s unraveling, and while at first they are embarrassed by what they see, eventually, the young couple become mesmerized by this tangled and contorted codependency of their elders.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” won the 1963 Tony Award and the 1962–63 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. Most folks are familiar with it from the 1966 film version, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal, and Sandy Dennis. Thalian Association is continuing its summer series of plays this weekend, with the opening of the Albee show, directed by local actor and writer Anthony Lawson.
“I like doing smaller shows with lots of emotion,” Lawson tells encore. He last acted in “Brooklyn: The Musical” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” but is slated to star as Amos in “Chicago” in the coming months. He also will launch his own theatre group, Panache Theatrical Productions, to debut “Santaland Diaries” in time for the holidays. First, he’ll be doing a “Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” for Opera House in the fall, which will be the largest cast he’s ever worked with. However, he’s drawn to the intimacy of his current show and even more to this small cast of massive talent.
“I’ve never seen this play performed before,” Lawson tells. “Just seeing this group act the hell out of it in rehearsal has affected me plenty.”
Ron Hasson will play George and Katherine Vernon will be Martha. They’re bringing the dysfunction to the stage steadfast.
“Albee’s writing is so astonishing that it makes three hours of people just talking (yelling) at each other absolutely fascinating,” Vernon tells. “Aside from simply learning the text itself, which is full of loops, callbacks and wild tangents, just finding my way through Martha’s mind and the constantly changing tactics in her battle with George has been the toughest and most rewarding.”
At the heart of the show is a love untouched, or better yet unfazed, by tact and social graces. “I love how these characters truly love each other but have no conventional means of expressing that love,” Lawson says.
Though the content has been heavy, and ripe with dark emotions, Lawson’s tried to provide a safe environment, relatively stress free, to bring out the best in all the actors. Maria Katsadorous plays Honey, while Hal Cosec plays her love interest, Nick. Katsadorous is compelled by the show’s highs and lows. Not only has she found them captivating and heart breaking, but wacky and hilarious.
“As an audience member, I think you come to feel every single emotion you can possibly feel throughout the course of this show,” Katsadorous notes. “The language is brilliant, but a bit of a bear to take on, so working together to break the show apart and then build that trust with one another to put it on—it has taught me so much and been so rewarding.”
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opens July 9 and runs through the 26, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Red Barn Studio (1122 South 3rd St.). Tickets are $25; www.thalian.org.
TECH CREW ON ‘WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRIGINA WOOLF?’
Shawn Sproatt: Costumes
Lance Howell: Lighting
Ben Fancy: Set Design
Michael O’Connell: Props
Izzy Gorden: Stage Manager