Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Review – A Riveting Performance at Steppenwolf

Every now and then I have had the good fortune to attend a production that is so outstanding that it makes me aware of the power of the stage and how special is theater in Chicago.  I felt that way when I saw August: Osage County. (written by Tracy Letts)  I felt that way again when I saw Steppenwolf Theatre's production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. This production is part of the 2010-2011 season as it continues the exploration of public/private self.  Recently, we rented the Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton movie and in contrast this production is more subtle and nuanced with more humor, as well.

Martha(Amy Morton) looking glamorous and seductive with George (Tracy Letts), an old story

This play had a very personal aspect for my husband and me.  When it was written and when we first saw the movie many years ago, he was an associate professor.  He vowed to himself that he would never be George and would be a full professor or leave.  Happily, that was never a choice that needed to be addressed.  I am also very thankful that as the wife of a new faculty member (the time was nearly the same as when the play was written), our greeting did not resemble the one George and Martha offered Honey and Nick.

Honey (Carrie Coon) comforted by Nick (Madison Dirks)

The play, which opened on October 13, 1962, is set on the campus of a small New England college. George, who is an associate professor of history and his wife, Martha, invite a new professor and his wife home for a nightcap following a party given by Martha’s father, the president of the college.

Martha (Amy Morton) with drink refreshed with George (Tracy Letts) behind and Honey (Carrie Coon) and Nick ( Madison Dirks) watch with concern

The cocktails flow and the young couple finds themselves caught in the crossfire of a savage marital war. The large stock of alcoholic beverages indicates this is a not uncommon occurrence.  As the evening moves along all defenses break down until the deepest, darkest secrets are revealed.

George(Tracy Letts), Martha(Amy Morton) held back by Nick (Madison Dirks) with Honey (Carrie Coon) curled on the couch

That Albee can bring humor to such a sensitive and emotional topic is to his credit.  That the acting could engage the audience with such wide-ranging emotions is remarkable. It was as a friend of mine said, “beautifully done” and “ Tracy Letts just gets better and better”.  Amy Morton as Martha is somewhat understated but very convincing and her range of emotion is powerful and moving. Carrie Coon as Honey, a mousy, lost, dependent faculty wife was very convincing.  Nick, a new faculty member in the Math Department?, no the Biology Department was intensely and believably portrayed by Madison Dirks.

George (Tracy Letts) presents flowers to Martha (Amy Morton)

The language, which was clear and easy to understand, is almost musical, certainly rhythmical and strengthens the message.  The set is the perfect home of the period, and particularly well used  when Martha and Honey come down the stairs.  

George (Tracy Letts) speaks to Martha (Amy Morton) in anger while Honey (Carrie Coon) and Nick (Madisson Dirks) watch

Directed by Pam MacKinnon, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? features ensemble members Tracy Letts (George) and Amy Morton (Martha) with Carrie Coon (Honey) and Madison Dirks (Nick). The production team includes: Todd Rosenthal (sets), Nan Cibula-Jenkins (costumes), Allen Lee Hughes (lights) and Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (sound). Malcolm Ewen is the Stage Manager and Deb Styer is the Assistant Stage Manager
The play's title, which alludes to the English novelist Virginia Woolf, is a parody of the song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" from Walt Disney’s animated version of The Three Little Pigs.  In the end, with all defenses down, we learn who is afraid of “Virginia Woolf”, who is afraid of life without pretense.  The opportunity to see this moving production should not be missed and do arrange the time to participate in the post-performance discussion.

Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre,
1650 N. Halsted St.
Online ticketing available at www.steppenwolf.org
Performances until February 13, 2011 no 7:30 pm performance
on Friday, December 24; no 3 pm or 7:30 pm performance on Saturday, December 25 or Saturday, January 1.
Curtain Times:  Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30.....
(Sunday evening performances through January 16 only).....
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 pm/ Wednesday matinees on January 19, 26 and February 2, 9 at 2 pm......
Free post-show discussions, sponsored by AT&T, are offered after every performance.

Photos:  Michael Brosilow


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