JWR Articles: Live Event - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Director: Kelly Daniels) - November 30, 2006 id="543337086">

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

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A version of this review appeared in the November 23-29, 2006 edition of Pulse Niagara
Off to an impressive start

“There are easier things in this world … than being married to the daughter of the president of the university,” confides jaded history professor George to his neophyte colleague in the biology department. Two couples reconvene at the “daughter” Martha’s home soon after a faculty social which was hosted by her powerful daddy. Over the next few booze-drenched hours secrets, sarcasm and adultery that’s deemed a “flop” bombard the eye, ear and soul. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee’s risqué-for-its-time masterpiece still packs an emotional wallop. But beware: its truth may drive some patrons to the exits before their awkward, knowing glances evolve into confessions of their own.

Choosing this for Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects’ first full-blown production took courage, but also serves notice that the newest professional arts troupe in the Peninsula has no fear. Will they come?

On opening night, they did.

The Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre served as the venue. Its sightlines (overly-teased hairdos withstanding) are generally ideal. Curiously, the on-stage voices are partially muffled Every word can be heard, but there is a veil over the tone that partially limits the dynamic range and crystal-clear diction that is the norm for these actors when heard elsewhere. Bring on the acousticians, please.

Necessarily, the lighting booth hovers just behind the last row of seats. No words filtered into the mix, but the incessant whirr of the computer lessened the dramatic impact of the silent beats. These natters are offered with love—the actors deserve to be seen, heard and savoured in conditions that complement their calibre and craft.

Leading the fray is Ric Reid’s portrayal of George. One of the toughest roles to sustain, Reid draws us further into his troubled mind and life with nearly every line and gesture. He morphs from bully to wimp to lush to lecher with ease, daring the audience to laugh with him, pity him then, horrifically, despise him as he gets his revenge with a no-holds-barred parlour game of “Get the Guests.” Surprisingly, only his pastoral delivery of Latin exorcism lacks authentic resonance. On the other hand, Reid’s near-dispatch of his caustic wife with a long gun is a marvel of truly pathetic understatement that will have the henpecked cheering inwardly for weeks.

Of the younger couple, Claire Calnan convinces with every gasp, scream and dash to the can when forced to purge her system of copious amounts of brandy. With less on-stage time than the others, the role, nonetheless, helps to focus the varying degrees of moral depravity both of her new friends and her wayward husband, whom she wed when “puffed up.”

In the pivotal role as Nick, Martin Happer leans a tad too far to the “aw shucks” naïveté of a good-looking up-and-comer who, deep down, is as opportunistic and greedy (financially and sexually) as any new prof in a small New England college where everyone knows that the only way to get ahead is to hump the wives of the senior men. Of course, like a presidential blowjob, such activities must not be construed as sex!

One of the most delicious (and certainly daunting) characters ever created is Martha. In this rendition, Darcy Dunlop starts off her incredible journey a touch too petulant, but soon settles into her gin then systematically makes the lives of all around her stupor equally miserable. Some early alterations to the script—no doubt with director Kelly Daniels’ suggestion or acquiescence—negate each other and leave the characterization no further ahead than in the early ‘60s.* Switching Martha’s inadvertent greeting from “Screw you” to “Fuck you” as the testy George opens the doors to his astonished late-night company while not really necessary, seems hardly worth the effort. But letting Nick’s engorging member too easily escape Albee’s direction for Martha (“she slips her hand between his legs, somewhere between the knee and the crotch …”) even as George is about to reappear with a bucket of ice (wonderful metaphor) scuttles a moment of real humiliation that makes the older/younger ploughing match appear innocently childish rather than monstrously conceived.

Music also plays an important part in underscoring the collective failings of humanity. The oft-sung nursery rhyme of the play’s title (with Virginia substituted for “Big Bad” from “The Three Little Pigs”—music by Frank Churchill), evokes an aura of make believe and serves as a compelling homage to the adults’ offspring: real or imagined.

Daniels’ subtle understanding of the truly juvenile subtext that permeates the action from the opening bickering through the final ugly realization gives this production a compelling edge that appeals to the voyeur in us all. JWR

* Ed.: In fact, the alterations were Albee’s in his last edition; none of the changes were made by Daniels.

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Playwright - Edward Albee
Director - Kelly Daniels
Set Designer - David Hewlett
Sound Designer - Freddy Gabrsek
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