Why in the world would a person willingly see a (three hour) play for the fourth time? How strong a suspicion would that viewer have of seeing something completely new? Very strong, 100 proof strong. From the very first sound (Martha’s gentle laughing off-stage) it was clear that this was a new George and Martha. Amy Morton and Tracy Letts, by way of Steppenwolf (and August Osage Country fame) are so very human that watching this production, directed by Pam MacKinnon is more akin to peeking in a window than looking at a stage.
Martha is often portrayed as a braying overtly sexual ball of venom. George is frequently placid and defeated. Ms. Morton & Mr. Letts have no interest in going down that road. When George refers to Martha’s party behavior as braying, her retort is barely in an outdoor voice. It’s then that we know this George and Martha are equally matched in their ferocity. Their words and manners, so natural and true, add a dimension to the rawness of their story, their marriage. Mr. Letts’ George is strong and knowing and funny. The treatment of Martha’s sensuality is an interesting interpretation. Many a Martha has climbed Nick as a boozy floozy in a too tight top. Ms. Morton seduces Nick in the least sexy of ways. She stumbles and clinically performs the seduction in a desperate attempt to have her husband respond. Nick’s interest is seen more clearly for what it is; ambition.
Nick and Honey, perfectly cast with Madison Dirks and Carrie Coon are far less naive and childlike than we’re accustomed. Nick holds his own amidst the incoming shells. Honey is young and quite tipsy, but very real and recognizable. The play motors along via free-range party games (Hump the Hostess, Bringing Up Baby, Get the Guests) as we discover what lies beneath. With the lower volume of this production we can really hear what is and what isn’t being said.
Ms. MacKinnon’s pacing and staging is fast and fluid. A magic trick of sorts results in the three acts rushing by as we simultaneously feel the characters’ building exhaustion. (This play should always been seen at night, preferably late at night.) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf opens at the Booth Theatre on the 50th anniversary of its premiere (October 13th.) This production is a poignant and powerful tribute to Edward Albee’s most popular play.