Friday, January 17, 2014

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Lakewood Playhouse

The News Tribune, Jan. 17, 2013

Steve Tarry as George, Brynne Garman as Martha and Niclas R. Olson as Nick
When Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? premiered in 1962 it exploded the myths of American family life as depicted by television shows like “Leave it to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best.” Half a century later it is still a disturbing play, uncomfortable to watch and in places difficult to understand. Some of the symbolism may be lost on modern audiences, and some of the emotions may seem overblown. But people who attend the Lakewood Playhouse performance forewarned of the harsh themes and language will be treated to brilliant dialogue and powerful acting.

Nick, Honey and George
The entire three-act play takes place in the living room of George and Martha (no last name and intentionally named after the father and first lady of our country). It is two o’clock in the morning. They’ve just come home from a party at Martha’s father’s house, are already inebriated, and Martha surprises George by letting him know she has invited the new couple, Nick and Honey, to join them for what turns out to be an all-night binge of drinking and sniping at one another.

It begins with uncomfortable barbed wit and degenerates into venomous attacks. The first act is more humorous than disturbing. George (Steve Tarry) is particularly funny as he hits everyone with zingers dryly delivered. He is hilarious, but there is no hiding his anger. Brynne Garman as Martha shouts and staggers so outrageously that in any other play she would be seen as chewing the scenery, but that is precisely the kind of outrageous character Martha is, and Garman nails it. Nick (Niclas R. Olson) is the all-American boy: handsome, strong, intelligent and poised for success — everything that George had hoped to be but has long since given up on. Olson plays him in an understated manner in the first act, but as the play progresses he becomes increasingly emotional. Honey (played by newcomer to the Lakewood Playhouse stage Kirsten Deane) is described as mousey and not overly bright. Deane plays her as not so much mousey but easily dumbfounded and overly eager to please.

The acting throughout is outstanding. Tarry does an amazing job of portraying George as loveable even when he is destroying everyone, including himself. My one reservation about his acting is that he downs prodigious amounts of alcohol without ever appearing inebriated, even as the other three are falling down drunk. Garman is slatternly and volatile, and she believably changes emotions in a flash. Both Olson and Deane convincingly react to a situation their characters do not know how to handle as they gradually let their inner feelings come out.
Martha and Honey. Photos by Kate Paterno-Lick

There is much about the play that is not easy to understand, such as why George attacks Nick so viciously and the hidden meaning of the story about the boy who wrecked his car and accidentally killed his mother. And what is the big secret about George and Martha’s son? Why is he so adamant that she should never mention “the boy”? The answers to these conundrums are not revealed until the end, and even when they are revealed they are not completely clear. It may help to know that these stories may be as symbolic they are real, but that is for each viewer to decide for him or herself.

It is performed in the round with excellent views from three of the four seating sections, but the play is not blocked well for the back section, which is why tickets for those seats are being held until all others are filled.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a tough and demanding play well acted and well directed by Larry Albert. It is a long play at right at three hours, and it can be emotionally draining. It is a play that is seldom produced and it is much more edgy than Lakewood Playhouse’s usual fare which I applaud.

WHAT: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 2
WHERE: Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood
TICKETS: $25.00, $22.00 Military, $21.00 Seniors and $19.00 Students/Educators
INFORMATION: 253-588-0042,

Watch for  reviews of The Search for signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe at Harlequin and My Brother Kissed Mark Zukerberg at Dukesbay Theater in Tacoma coming soon to this blog.

Also see Michael Dresdner's reviews of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at

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