Barbs, taunts, invective jabs and soul-destroying put-downs; they’re all a part of the fun of middle-class married life in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee’s 1962 drama about the deterioration of the marriage of a dysfunctional middle-aged couple, Martha and George. Director Peter Wray hews close to Albee’s original line for the play about the deeply flawed duo “entertaining” a young couple, delivering the substantial punch that the play still holds. The production remains as fresh at The Maryland Ensemble Theatre today as it was on Broadway decades ago when it won a 1963 Tony Award for Best Play as well as a 1962-63 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play.
The playwright’s message is still relevant today, even though we live in an age of high divorce rates, and contemporary couples would be far less constrained by social convention than they would be in the early sixties: they would seek a divorce as an alternative to constant sparring. Nevertheless, children, finances, fear, and other factors make certain that we still live in an age with plenty of George and Marthas.
…it is about the fictions we tell ourselves and the mixture of familiarity and lassitude that helps to sustain and feed those relationships that ultimately do us more harm than good.
Fueled by a volatile mixture of alcohol and malevolence George and Martha attack and bait each other and their guests with gusto. Tad Janes, Producing Artistic Director for the Maryland Ensemble Theatre, whose voice was sometimes a bit too low to be audible, delivered an admirable performance as George, leading the “games” that he concocts to make their early morning party one that no one could ever forget. Julie Herber, an instructor at the Ensemble School and Frederick Community College plays the heck out of the character of Martha and truly shines, changing from flirtatious to vulnerable to venomous in the blink of an eye. The tears are real, the action is gripping and the play was overall, deeply affecting.
Joe Jalette’s character of Nick is an innocent and a willing infidel at the same time and helps to carry the show in some of the play’s more poignant moments. Honey, Nick’s wife, always light as a feather and just barely there, is played by veteran actress Courtney McLaughlin, who is in my opinion just a bit too pretty, too tall and has too much stage presence for the role of the mousy little wife, but she makes you forget all that by giving a moving performance.
The set design is nicely done to the period and the lighting and sound were both well done.
If you are willing to part with your coin to see a show and be prepared to leave the theatre with more questions than answers, this show is for you. A woman behind me, clearly affected and even somewhat upset by the three-hour drama, during an intermission asked her husband what the moral of this story was. Had I had more courage, I would have turned around and said that it is about the fictions we tell ourselves and the mixture of familiarity and lassitude that helps to sustain and feed those relationships that ultimately do us more harm than good.
Martha isn’t the only one afraid of Virginia Woolf; I know that I am too.
Running Time: 3 hours with two 10-minute intermissions.
Advisory: This play contains adult themes.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf plays at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre 31 West Patrick Street Frederick, MD 21701 from February 14th to March 9th. Tickets are available at the box office or online.