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'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' by Edward Albee

Produced by Zippysaid productions. The show has now closed

Courtesy of Zippysaid productions

Dave Rabjohn

A revival of the classic 1962 play ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ by Edward Albee opened at the Red Sandcastle Theatre in Toronto on April 24. Fiercely directed by David Agro, the play is a smash up of booze, infidelity, caustic relationships and unrelenting denial of reality and truth. No wonder it won a Tony award!

A brilliant cast of four delivers bout after bout of flaming language and emotion. Agro also stars as George, a college history professor who moves around the stage like a wounded cat and thinks he is conducting the games of the evening.

George and his wife Martha (Deborah Shaw) stagger home from a party given by the college president – Martha’s father. The air seethes with choler as Martha announces that she has invited a young couple for after party drinks.

Nick, a new professor, played by Josh Palmer and his silly wife Honey (Chloe Matamoros) arrive while sobriety leaves. Martha and George strike out at each other, embarrassing the guests. There is a mention of a “son” and Honey admits that Martha alluded to him which infuriates George. During a series of taunting arguments – one being about George’s lack of ambition and ability – Honey (clearly an alcoholic) gets very drunk and leaves to vomit.

While George and Nick are alone, George tells a story about a strange friend who killed both his parents apparently by accident. When the girls return, music is played and Martha openly cavorts with Nick and George pretends not to care. George continues to” play games” such as something called “get the guests” where he wickedly describes the young couple and taps into personal difficulties.

Martha taunts George to the point where she defiantly takes Nick upstairs - clearly to seduce him. Martha returns, unsatisfied, and the discussion about their son spirals even more furiously. Nick finally realizes that the son is imaginary – a game they play as solace for their infertility. George’s final vile act is to “kill off” the son and Martha swoons to the floor as Nick and Honey stagger away.

Shaw and Agro are brilliant together as his eyes keep popping at her vulgar braying. Their drunkenness accelerates with subtlety. Moments of false tenderness explode into vitriol. Shaw’s brash toughness is belied by Agro’s power to kill the game of the “son.” Shaw’s skill is being drunk, angry, and self-despairing all at once. A highlight of George’s work is a splendid speech about chromosomes.

As director, Agro blocks George often with his back to the audience. Cleverly, this suggests George as a conductor, trying to control his “games.”

Josh Palmer, as Nick, demonstrates versatility with a range of emotions. He somehow balances his drunken lust for Martha and concern for his infirm wife. Lack of confidence is displayed by moments of staring at nothing and nervous knees chattering back and forth as he sits nervously.

Chloe Matamoros, as Honey, hides her fears in austere clothing and wrapped up hair. But she clearly exposes her alcoholism while she stares at a bottle (not the pourer) as it gurgles. Honey is an enigma – a seeming witless minor character, she breaks out into moments of clarity underscoring George and Martha’s evil. She is almost a Greek chorus, hovering above the fray with pitiful commentary.

Agro’s direction (and I guess Albee’s writing) allows for wild modulations in voice and volume. In most works the “braying” would be a concern, but here it fits.

The tiny Red Sandcastle space could have been a concern for such a wild ride, but it ironically helped to focus the free-wheeling action.

Albee’s work blurs the distinction between illusion and reality – this talented cast delivered the theme.

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ by Edward Albee

Cast – David Agro, Deborah Shaw, Josh Palmer, Chloe Matamoros
Director – David Agro
Producer – Deborah Shaw

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