Weston’s ‘Virginia Woolf’ challenges actors, audience

Andrew Garman as George and Kathleen McElfresh as Martha in Weston Playhouse’s ‘Virginia Woolf.’

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Weston Playhouse closes its mainstage summer season with Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning black comedy/drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

This is a marathon evening; opening night ran three-plus hours. It is an endurance test that challenges four actors to create larger-than-life characters out of reams of Albee’s caustic dialogue. At one point, Mount Parnassus is mentioned and this play can be viewed as a modern clash of the titans.

The play takes place at the home of George, a middle-aged professor of history at a small New England college, and Martha, his wife and the daughter of the college’s president. After a long night at a faculty party, Martha invites Nick, a newly arrived biology teacher, and Honey, his insubstantial wife, back to their house to continue the drinking. But Martha has ulterior motives, having seen in Nick qualities that her own husband no longer possesses, qualities that she is interested in personally exploring.

From left, Jeffrey Omura as Nick and Kristin Villanueva as Honey are ‘just about perfect.’

Albee peels back the protective membrane of two upper middle-class couples’ marriages that, over the years, have survived on well-told lies and complicit illusions. During a whiskey-soak night fueled by verbal attacks and emotional feints, they are exposed to coruscating truth that, one hopes, liberates them.

Director Mike Donahue moves his cast smoothly around like so many playing pieces on a chess board and we watch the characters attack as they move toward their heartbreaking endgame.

Andrew Garman’s George and Kathleen McElfresh’s Martha are burdened with a vast amount of dialogue and, while they have conquered the words, they have yet to get under the skin of their respective characters.

Omura, McElfresh and Garman.

McElfresh’s Martha seems overly urbane and sophisticated while Garman’s George appears to be playing his emotional ups and downs by-the-numbers. They have yet to connect with their characters’ inner voices and their relationship appears to be pristine … even sterile … instead of the guttural, messy liaison that Albee has written. And considering all the alcohol their characters consume throughout the evening, one would expect it to have some physical effect on both of them.

Jeffrey Omura’s Nick and Kristin Villanueva’s Honey are just about perfect. Omura’s Nick is both priggish and self-centered with just the right amount of cocky condescension to expose his shallowness. Villanueva’s Honey is a fittingly pitiable creature, child-like and dependent on those around her; she also seems to be the most human in this destructive dance of demi-gods.

A more poignant scene or George and Martha.

Scenic Designer Dane Laffrey’s set is a geometrically furnished raised platform, its furniture all squares and rectangles; it could be interpreted as an island shelter or, more likely, a game board on which George and Martha play out their devastating games. And while the elevated set is visually effective, audience members should book their tickets above the sixth row if they don’t want to develop cricks in their necks. Scott Zielinski’s lighting design provides equal parts illumination and isolation, keeping the characters in sharp focus, while Anya Klepikov’s costumes are appropriate to the characters.

Missing from the program are the titles of the three acts – Act I: Fun and Games; Act II:  Walpurgisnacht (or Witches’ Sabbath, a pagan celebration filled with dance, drink and sensuality); and Act III: The Exorcism. This play is demanding on its audience as well as on its actors, and those three act titles can help audience members unfamiliar with the play appreciate its motifs and its evolving patterns.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf continues through Aug. 31 at Weston Playhouse, 12 Park St., Weston. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; matinees at 2 p.m. on Wednesday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. For more information or for tickets, click here or call 802-824-5288. Tickets are $45-$69.

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About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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  1. Liisa Kissel says:

    An outstanding performance!