“Truth and illusion, George – you don’t know the difference.”
“No [Martha], but we must carry on as though we did.”
And so it is, that the angst of two couples’ lives derive from self-deception in Edward Albee’s darkly comic masterpiece, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Producer Ken Bacon and Director Terry McGovern team to bring this classic to San Rafael’s intimate Belrose Theater. They have wisely adapted the shorter film version rather than the original theatrical script, saving an hour of running time, while retaining Albee’s caustic wit. The result is an entertaining evening that offers much more comic relief than the story line would suggest. Those unfamiliar with the work will enjoy an honest and provocative rendering, and those who know it already will experience a worthwhile revisit.
The year is 1962, the cusp between the optimistic but naive ’50s and the turbulent ’60s, with its unprecedented threats to social order. The social mores of the day are still distinctly of the earlier period, however fractured in the enclave of the evening’s events.
George is on the faculty of a small college and hasn’t achieved his potential. Wife Martha is the daughter of the president of the college, which she hoped George would someday head. But they have become dysfunctional, wretched inebriates, constantly bickering and degrading one another. One can feel their physical and intellectual horizons crowding out their future.
Nick is a newly-arrived biology professor. To George’s displeasure, Martha has invited Nick and wife Honey to come over for drinks after a faculty party at the president’s house. What ensues is an all-night binge that can be characterized as emotionally abusive mutual entrapment. Characters’ vulnerabilities are laid bare by revealing exposures of their illusions, but it would be unfair to share the details to those new to the story.
The film version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is electrifying, with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor delivering gripping performances. We can’t expect such bravura acting from local theater, but we do get a rewarding evening. Richard Kerrigan and Molly McCarthy as the leads do share one condition with the film stars – they, too, are married. As George, however, Burton is authoritative and charismatic even as he is beleaguered, and the vitriol seems natural to him. Fortunately, Kerrigan doesn’t channel Burton, which would lead to a certain unfavorable comparison. In a sense, Kerrigan is more realistic as a downtrodden character. He seems less malicious and evokes considerable laughter. Regrettably, he did muff enough lines to make it noteworthy. Likewise, McCarthy is not as biting as Taylor, yet she offers a suitably hard-edged characterization, serving up barbs like aces in a tennis match. She flounces around appropriately, yet aptly demonstrates a woman’s affection and empathy with each of the other players at one time or another.
As Nick, Tulley Rafferty fits the part – the handsome scholar with an athletic past. He displays the confidence of a talented young man with the grit to go toe-to-toe with well-connected, if emasculated, George. Finally, Georgia Thunes plays Honey – fragile to the point of being a serial vomiter, while still playful and charming. Thunes gives a strong portrayal, maintaining her character throughout an extended period of stupor and sickness.
The staging works well. With four characters confined to a realistic, living room environment (in the theatrical version), the play is conducive to being produced in a small house effectively. The set is a good representation, and its functionality meets the requirements of the action. Lighting and sound are not intended to draw inappropriate attention to themselves, and they properly support the overall tone of the production.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, produced by Ken Bacon Productions and Marin Actors’ Workshop, plays at the Belrose Theater, San Rafael through October 24.