Monday, December 13, 2010

Review: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

About ten minutes into the play I knew we were in trouble...

"I don't bray," states Martha played by Steppenwolf Theatre Ensemble member Amy Morton in a very matter-of-fact way.

"No. No you don't," I thought. "You don't bray at all. In fact you have a very clear, direct, and well-trained voice."

This discrepancy sums up the trouble with this production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: Morton has been miscast. She doesn't have the brassy vocal presence to fill out Edward Albee's iconic role making it hard for her to fill out the rest of the role. Lines like "If you (George) existed, I'd divorce you" and "Martha eats chromosomes for breakfast" no longer make sense. George has plenty of existence as compared to Martha and the only thing this Martha is having for breakfast is a bran muffin and maybe a little pomegranate juice.

Morton does still turn in a lovely performance. Some of Martha's more vulnerable moments have never been better, but the void created by her lack of prowess makes Tracy Letts' George look like a bully. And this is a real shame because Letts turns in a masterful performance. Rather than playing him as a spineless punching bag, George becomes the long suffering equal opponent of Martha in their boxing matches - who just happened to be out matched. This is the night that George finally decides he is going to drop the gloves and land a knock-out of his own. If Letts had had an equally matched Martha, this production would have surpassed good to downright terrifying. Letts' only misstep is the throwing of the book at the end of the act. The gesture that is supposed to propel him into the climax of the play, instead is an impotent fling that is easily overlooked without a greater knowledge of the play.

The show is stolen, however, in the moment when Honey finally understands what George is doing and is brought to tears through motherly sympathy. The spot-on performance of Carrie Coon has so perfectly lead up to that moment, that the result is heartbreaking. All her character choices were so meticulously chosen that not a moment, glance, or gesture was wasted by the newcomer. We hope to see good things from Coon in the future.

All this being said, this blogger highly recommends you see this show despite its flaws in casting. One thing that Director Pam MacKinnon and cast do exceptionally well is lead the audience through the games that Albee has written in the script and really let us know what is going on along with the danger lurking underneath. There were a lot of strong choices that really helped clarify what this particular production of a nebulous play is about.

One last detail that cannot escape mention is the costume choice for Martha in Act III. She enters wearing a sweater and what are essentially yoga pants. The specifically modern material of the pants are distracting in what has otherwise been a very detailed production.

Happy Birthday:
Robert Prosky (1930-2008)
Christopher Plummer (b. 1929)

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