Monday, April 28, 2014

Classic Albee takes stage for first time at Seattle Rep

(l to r) Amy Hill, Aaron Blakely, Pamela Reed and R. Hamilton Wright in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo: Alabastro Photography
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Through May 18

The explosive, immersive, three hour drama, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, by Edward Albee is on stage now at Seattle Rep. If you thought August: Osage County was caustic, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet, sister. This play will blister your paint and warp your wood. The games played by George and Martha make Russian roulette look silly.

This is an American classic that practically became classic the minute Albee stopped writing it in 1962. It won the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play. You may know it best from the 1966 movie starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, George Segal and Sandy Dennis. Here, the four dynamic talents are R. Hamilton Wright, Pamela Reed, Aaron Blakely and Amy Hill.

This production is lovingly mounted by director Braden Abraham, with delightful set by Matthew Smucker with massive help from the Seattle Rep scene techs. During the two intermissions, you might take time to look at the academic flotsam and jetsam collected on multiple floor to ceiling bookshelves, as if jammed in there over years. Lighting by L.B. Morse and sound by Matt Starritt perfectly accompany the evening.

George (Wright) and Martha (Reed) return home at 2:00a.m. after a party thrown by Martha’s father, the president of the university, where George is a history professor. Martha announces that the evening isn’t finished and that shortly Nick (Blakely) and Honey (Hill) will be arriving for an after-party drink. Nick has just relocated to work at the university and Martha said she promised her father to be “nice” to them.

At first, George seems like a poor benighted husband with an abusive wife, but after some goading, it turns out he has knives to spare as well, and neither George or Martha are loathe to use their cutlery in front of visitors. With an extraordinary amount of booze consumed on stage, Nick is completely outmaneuvered while his delicate wife vomits in the bathroom and falls asleep on the bathroom tile.

Wright and Reed make a well-matched team. A fair comment acknowledges that they probably should be a bit younger to better fit the script but these characters need every bit of experience an actor can bring and Wright and Reed have powerful stage experience to bring these characters to life. It’s really hard to say which of them does the better performance, since they are both so good.

Blakely has a tricky role that he handles well, where his character has to be appalled at the revelations and to desire to leave at once, and yet also is fascinated by the interplay, and is hungry for all the insider knowledge spilled out over the ensuing hours. Hill is luminous in her first outing on such a large stage, as the conservative young woman with “slim hips” and a touchy stomach. She makes every moment count when she is on stage, asserting her opinion even when completely black-out drunk in convincing and un-self-conscious ways.

This is a terrific production of a challenging work, and it’s just as surprising to us as to Jerry Manning that Seattle Rep has never done a production of this show. It’s thankfully time for that omission to be repaired. Go see it.

For more information, go to or call 206-443-2222.