Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Theatre Review- An American Classic Finds a Unique Home

Blue Zone's Production of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? From left to right: Ann Colby Stocking, Jack Patterson, Paul Haitkin, Teal Sherer

As an emerging theatre company, it is no delicate matter to simply aver a production of Edward Albee's Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as the second play in one’s introductory season.  Open the floodgates and let flow the river of theatrical pundits for there is almost certainly no escape from the inevitable tirade of conviction to follow.  Afterall, there’s symbolism in need of allusion, allegories in need of allegor-ing and illusions that must be clear!  The basic questions, however, remain- Was Blue Zone Theatre’s production of Virginia Woolf at the Noho Arts Center flawless?  No.  Was it worth the watch?  By all means.

I was uncertain what to expect going into this production.  Having seen Blue Zone’s first production, The History of Bowling, I knew this company was the only Theatre Company in The United States created by and for persons with disabilities.  It seemed to me there were already a sufficient number of challenges for a smaller company trying to produce Virginia Woolf, without the hurdle of the many predetermined ideas people may have of actors with disabilities.  Furthermore, The History of Bowling, was a play with characters who were disabled.  Virginia Woolf has never, to my knowledge, been conceived in this manner.

Jack Patterson and Ann Colby Stocking

This reality, however, is of very little concern once the play begins.  After we meet each actor and watch them surrender to the ebb and flow of the scene work, the disabilities seem to silently wash away into the reality of this production’s world.  

The three-act play moved with respectable speed, avoiding the potential trap of dwelling on the theatrics of Albee’s prose.  The staging, on the other hand, seemed a bit lazy and sometimes a bit unspecific.  The night seemed an unnecessarily complicated game of musical chairs that only occasionally found motivation from the script.  And the physical violence and dancing seemed to pretend away the disabilities rather than honor them respectfully in their own form.  Exempted from this, however, was a rather enchanting wheel chair dance performed by Honey ( Teal Sherer)  The drinking was plenty, as expected, but the smoking was non-existent, a comforting familiar that was certainly missed.  In short, the production was safe, a seemingly attempted replica of past successful stagings.

Paul Haitkin and Ann Colby Stocking

The most remarkable treat of the evening, however, was the absolutely captivating performance of Ann Colby Stocking as Martha.  The also Artistic Director Ms. Stocking was a whirlwind of depth and dimension set lose in the challenging arena of expectation.  Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar for her performance, Uta Hagen won a Tony.  The shoes to fill were stilettos of endless height.  This seemed, however, no concern to Ms. Stocking.  Her performance was so thankfully unpresumptuous, so devastatingly brass and unforgiving.  There was no evidence of trying too hard, no need to prove one’s worthiness of the role; there was just the role in all its bitter, naked glory.    

Jack Patterson as the often meek but equally as poisoning George kept up with varying success.  His proficiency in Albee’s language was sufficient but there was an undeniable want for something past the spoken word.  Whereas the Martha Ms. Stocking created lived entirely on the precipice of emotional fatality, teetering back and forth between delusional clarity and irrational destruction, Patterson’s George floundered back and forth with less at stake.  The poison of George and Martha must be equal in parts in order to truly prod the epic and torturous love of one of theatre’s most famous couples.  Patterson’s George, sadly, conceded much contest to Stocking’s Martha.  Equally, Paul Haitkin as Nick and Teal Sherer as Honey were sufficient, but certainly less enticing.  

Paul Haitkin and Teal Sherer

The choice of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was a bold and potentially thankless step in the history pages of Blue Zone Theatre, but it was probably just the step needed in finding the voice of the company.  And while I’m not sure it reached the bar that was set, it was certainly a progressive step forward.   

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opened Saturday, January 24, 2009 and will run through Sunday, March 1, 2009 @:

NoHo Arts Center
11136 Magnolia Ave.
North Hollywood, CA 91601

Friday & Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday at 3pm

For reservations:
call: 323-960-7711
online: www.Plays411.com/virginiawoolf

Photos by: Christopher Brown

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