Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
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The last date listed for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was Sunday February 8, 2009 / 2:30pm.
Currently at Lucie Stern Theatre
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Palo Alto Players invites Bay Area theatergoers to experience a classic gem of American Theatre — Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Opening January 24 at the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, Edward Albee’s first full-length play has been celebrated for its bracing and complex, yet darkly humorous, treatment of relationships, fear, and love.
The play centers on George, a professor at a small New England college, and his disappointed wife, Martha, as they prepare to entertain George’s new younger colleague, Nick, and his fragile wife, Honey, after a faculty party. As the drinks flow and the night progresses, George and Martha draw the young couple into their marital “games” whether they’re willing players or not. By the end of the evening everyone is driven to find the solid core of what they love and what they fear. In the process, each learns how far they will go to keep these secrets hidden from themselves and from the others.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has been heralded as a modern masterpiece for its witty, quick writing and its compelling portrayal of a dysfunctional relationship with an unexpected gleam at its core. It was first produced in 1962 and would go on to be awarded “Best Play” at the 1963 Tony Awards and the 1962-1963 New York Drama Critics’ Awards. It was also selected to win the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Drama; however, the award’s advisory board objected to the play’s use of profanity and sexual themes and, as a result, no award was given for Drama that year. Albee did go on to win three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama: Seascape in 1975, Three Tall Women in 1994, and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? in 2002.
The play opened on Broadway on October 10, 1962 with Uta Hagen in the role of Martha opposite Arthur Hill as George, earning them Tony Awards for their performances. It was released in 1966 as a much-talked about film by Mike Nichols with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. There was a revival in the Seventies with Colleen Dewhurst and George Gazzara. Most recently, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? enjoyed a successful Broadway production with Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin that performed at various cities including New York, London, and San Francisco.
One of the largest challenges in mounting of play of such reputation is to move out of the shadow of those who have come before. This was one of the primary concerns of Palo Alto Players Executive Director Peter Bliznick when choosing production staff for the show. “People may recall the verbal fireworks of the Burton and Taylor film,” says Bliznick, “but Palo Alto Players didn’t want the show to be just another jousting match between George and Martha for two plus hours.” Instead, the Players’ production explores the ebb and flow of relationships and conversations and highlights the sudden shock when someone goes too far, and then goes just a little bit more. For Bliznick, it was important to find a director committed to having this production be “a terrific contest” and a “fair” fight between husband and wife. Above all else, “there is a luminous, albeit wickedly humorous, soul to this play and we want audiences to be touched by that,” Bliznick concluded. Finding the right director was paramount.
Marilyn Langbehn (Oakland), whose 2007 production of Driving Miss Daisy was named one of that years’ “Top Ten Bay Area Productions” by the Contra Costa Times, directs the skilled cast in her first Palo Alto Players production. “Much of what I know about the nature of theatrical conflict comes from Virginia Woolf,” says director Langbehn. "Edward Albee gives us a view of long-term relationships in all their passion, humor, and above all, love. George and Martha are crazy about each other – no matter what it may look like to us – but to keep things honest, Albee gives us “marriage as a battle between equals,” and these two people, in all their articulate viciousness, know exactly which buttons to push and when. It’s thrilling stuff, and a dream come true to direct."