A curtain will soon rise on Immediate Theatre Project’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The play cordially invites viewers into George and Martha’s home of marital hell, where their late-night houseguests, Nick and Honey, become pawns in the older couple’s relationship breakdown. The show opens on Wednesday, April 6, at N.C. Stage Company.
The 1962 Edward Albee-penned play is among ITP’s most ballsy ventures to date. The show, directed by Hans Meyer, stars Michael MacCauley and Callan White as George and Martha, two iconic roles made famous in celluloid by Richard Burton and an explosive Elizabeth Taylor. Nick and Honey are played by Lucky Gretzinger and Julia VanderVeen. Willie Repoley serves as set designer and producer for this production. “To try and pull off something this iconic and this emotionally challenging is terrifying; it’s a lot of responsibility,” Repoley says in a press release. “We’ve worked hard for 11 years to be ready for this.”
One reason for selecting Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? as part of a season that includes radio adaptations of the holiday favorite It’s A Wonderful Life and screwball comedy His Girl Friday is that “we really focus on stories that need to be told right here, right now,” Repoley says. “It’s more of a gut feeling of ‘This play has never been done, that we know of, quite the way that we want to do it.’”
Repoley promises this particular production will draw out the emotional depth intended by the playwright. “One thing we do is pay attention to detail,” he says. “We make choices very consciously.” The director and cast are concentrating on truly connecting with their characters and motivations. It’s worth noting that, to avoid exhaustion, the original Broadway production had two different casts — one for matinees and one for evening performances.
ITP will take on Albee with just one group of actors. The company was formed in 2004 by Repoley and Meyer, friends from college. ITP was named partner company in residence at N.C. Stage, producing one main stage play each season, beginning with an out-of-the-box take on Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. Other boundary-pushing productions included Venus in Fur and An Iliad.
Many theater companies keep their distance from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? because it comes with controversy. Albee published this play amid the decline of the Motion Picture Production Code — a set of moral guidelines censoring risqué elements. At that time, general audiences weren’t sure how much boldness they were willing to accept. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? pushed against those levels of acceptability and, subsequently, was shut out of the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Allegedly, the advisory committee objected to the play’s profanity and use of sex as a weapon. No Pulitzer Prize for Drama was given that year.
But the Albee work eventually prevailed. Between its stage and screen versions, it garnered several Oscars, Tonys and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play. Its premise, of a marriage on the rocks and the accompanying mind games, offers more than just contention. “They’re not missing out on their lives at all. They’re absolutely living every moment to the hilt,” Repoley says of the characters. “That might be what Albee is getting at, too. If you look back and don’t have any regrets, you are probably doing something wrong. If we are not going to be fully human then, really, what’s the point?”
WHAT: Immediate Theatre Project stages Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?
WHERE: N.C. Stage Company, 1 Stage Lane, ncstage.org
WHEN: Wednesday, April 6, through Sunday, May 1. Wednesdays to Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, at 2 p.m. $16-$40