WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? by Edward Albee, directed by Barbara Larose, with Tricia Brioux, Jason Gautreau, Karie Richards and Mark Whelan. Alumnae Theatre (70 Berkeley). Runs through October 9, Thursday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. 416-364-4170. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? Is a nasty play. And I mean that as a high compliment to Edward Albee 's classic work about two couples - George and Martha and their younger guests at a post-party party, Nick and Honey - who, fuelled by liquor, anger and need, play an evening of fun and games.
George is an associate history prof at a New England university run by Martha's father, while Nick is a recent addition to the biology department. Martha's drawn to the younger man, in part because it gives her yet another chance to needle her disappointing husband.
Barbara Larose 's production for the Alumnae Theatre captures much of the animosity and tension of the script - breathtaking for several reasons - but not enough of its comedy. For all the emotional flaying, Albee's play is very funny.
Tricia Brioux , one of the Alumnae's most reliable performers, is a standout as Martha, showing us the pain and desperation beneath the savagery. She can be both fearsome and fearful, and if she's a monster, as George says, she's clearly a wounded one.
The others aren't quite as successful. There's a sameness to Mark Whelan 's George, even when he takes control of the action in the final act. He needs more tones and a sense of something agitating beneath his words. Still, he and Brioux create a number of fine cliff-hanger chills when they alternately go at and bond with each other.
Jason Gautreau 's Nick, ready to use whatever's necessary to rise on the campus social ladder, has a nice edge from the beginning, but he doesn't capture the character's bravado. Karie Richards has trouble giving the giggly Honey, the play's hardest role, much shape or importance.