Most productions I’ve seen of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF (@ Lyric Stage through Feb. 12th) have bitten right into the “meat” of Albee’s savage play, taking no time at all to warm up to the fireworks. George and Martha usually battle hammer and tong from the get-go but director Scott Edmiston is more interested in the couple’s inner, emotional life. Oh, Edmiston gets the play where it’s going, certainly, but he gives us time to figure out what’s eating these people… which makes it a much, much sadder play.
Likewise Honey and Nick: They’re definitely not the main event but Albee uses their presence to ferret out George and Martha’s secrets—while they’re inadvertently revealing their own. Edmiston doesn’t view them as caricatures or comic relief but as casualties. As George and Martha, Steven Barkhimer and Paula Plum seem comfortable with each other, not “old shoe” comfortable, rather “old foe” comfortable, like so many long married couples. As Honey and Nick, Erica Spyres and Dan Whelton seem (on purpose, of course) uncomfortable with each other, like so many mismatched newlyweds. As I watched, I thought that these young people would become George and Martha in twenty years… the “historical inevitability” George is fond of bestowing on an idea. (That never occurred to me before!)
You don’t get a lot of time to ponder the physics in the ferocious Burton/Taylor movie, which by the by Albee hated. He hated the director (“Mike Nichols trying to prove he could be serious”) and he felt betrayed by the studio which he claimed had promised to cast Betty Davis and James Mason. (I can’t imagine Davis and Mason…and what the heck do you do with the “what a dump” business?) As fond as I am of the film, I had time this time to think of the parallels with John Osbourne’s frightening LOOK BACK IN ANGER and with Albee’s other plays where the American Dream self-destructs. To paraphrase George, just when you learn the game, they change the rules. What a country!