"Martha loved her husband madly." That was the opinion of the Marquis de Lafayette. Of course, he was talking about George Washington's wife, who joined her husband during the brutal winter at Valley Forge.
The loving madness of Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a different story, and she likely would not win praise for marital devotion. She and husband George are entrenched in their own never-ending battles.
Edward Albee's three-act drama won both the 1963 Tony and New York Drama Critics Circle awards. It was also selected for the Pulitzer Prize, but the advisory committee was too shocked by the work's language and sexuality to bestow the award. Jennifer Growden recently directed an intense production at Shadowbox Theatre.
As the play begins, the slightly inebriated George (Michael Martin) and Martha (Kathryn Talbot) stagger into their living room after a faculty party thrown by her father, president of the college where George is an associate history professor. As with many other things about George, the title "associate" irritates Martha. She's built up resentment over George's failure to prove himself worthy in her father's eyes.
It's 2 a.m., so George slips off his shoes, but Martha says she's invited guests. George warns her that she can bray and howl, but not to "start in one bit about the kid!" Mostly, they drink and insult each other until the guests arrive. Nick (Matt Story) is a handsome, 29-year-old former athlete who has been hired to teach biology. His mousy wife Honey (Giselle M. Chatelain) loves to drink brandy but gets tipsy and ill easily. Whether due to alcohol or genetics, Honey sometimes seems not to be playing with a full deck. The metaphor is apt, for this is an evening of fun and games — although the games are not fun, they are psychologically punishing.
Nick hopes to ingratiate himself with Martha to advance his own career. Martha knows this and dangles the advantages of her good will before him. She also seduces him — although it turns out that the vast quantities of booze have sabotaged his libido.
The highbrow colleagues sing "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" to one another to break the tension at various intervals. They all are afraid, of course, and in the end, there's no place to hide.
Under Growden's direction, the talented cast kept the complex, weird and at times absurdist play enthralling. One hardly noticed the three acts stretched to an equal number of hours. — Dalt Wonk