Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? from the City Theatre: A perfect measure of schadenfreude on the rocks, with an angst hunter – Arts

Rick Smith as George and Meredith O’Brien as Martha in the City Theater production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Photo by Andy Berkovsky)

These days, City Theater productions look like a litmus test for its ability to sit for more than three hours of live theater after a two-year Covid hiatus.

And not just any theatre. We’re talking about risk-taking, game-changing, word-heavy plays like Oscar Wilde’s An ideal husband which was the company’s first full season production, and Edward Albee Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which opened last weekend.

Albee’s 1962 drama invites audiences to be a collective fly on the wall of George and Martha’s modest home to witness their cruel psychological warfare, intense verbal abuse and what amounts to one of the best writings of the American scene.

The play, which is divided into three one-hour acts, begins when George – a middle-aged, underachieving associate history professor at a small New England college – and his disgruntled wife, Martha, return home. them at 2 a.m., familiarly and functionally drunk from a Saturday night party at the college president’s house. Much to George’s chagrin, Martha has invited an opportunistic young assistant professor and his wife Mouse over to their house for a nightcap. During the late-night hours, George and Martha make Nick and Honey drink alcohol and use them as pawns, props, and cannon fodder in increasingly cruel and punishing mind games titled “Humiliate the Hosts”, “Get the Guests”, “Hump the Hostess” and “Bringing Up Baby”. It all amounts to an excruciatingly painful shit show and a wonderfully orchestrated display of schadenfreude, a German term coined in the mid-1800s that refers to the pleasure one derives from the misfortunes of others.

With this production taking place at the intimate Trinity Playhouse in downtown Austin, the City Theater Company puts audiences squarely in the line of sight. The performers are so close – even more so by director Karen Sneed’s tendency to push them to the edge of the performance space – that there should be a splash zone for flying gin, spitting insults and egos. broken.

The key to success Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is to have a gritty, crass, and snappy Martha who can unleash violent rants and ruthless barbs, emasculate George and Nick while seducing them, and then seriously lay bare her frailty and deep-seated self-loathing. Meredith O’Brien is perfect in the role. She creates a Martha as complicated as it is irresistible. It’s almost impossible to take your eyes off her during production.

Equally important is watching a pathetic George wallow in his own mediocrity and misery, and bow to Martha’s hard-hitting humiliation, only to match and then surpass her fury with bitter arrogance, shrewd intelligence and keen conscience. tender points of her sweet belly. Rick Smith is brilliant in this role, as if it were written for him. He and O’Brien, who shared the stage at the City Theater last year Serious misconductride the emotional pendulum that is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? like the seasoned artists that they are.

As for their young guests, Carl Kraines and Chiara McCarty are wonderful in these deceptively simple but extremely difficult roles. And they ride that same pendulum with compelling elation, dismay and growing indignation.

Sneed’s perpetually forward direction keeps the pace going while art director Andy Berkovsky’s scenic and lighting design gives the 60s-style living room that houses this room a lived-in look. Burgundy walls, dark wood furniture, uninspiring artwork, and a lack of windows create a palpable sense of confinement and oppression, which is what this room calls for. Characteristic and perfect period costumes are courtesy of Rosalie Oliveri. A perfect storm of production and performance was created for Albee’s masterpiece. Rather than take shelter from this three-hour downpour, it’s time to get out and get wet.

city ​​theater Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Trinity Street Theater, 901 Trinity,
Until May 1
Duration: 3 hours.

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