Immediate Theatre Project’s production of Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, at N.C. Stage Company, theorizes that a different breed of people exist past the midnight hour. When Nick and Honey arrive for an afterparty at George and Martha’s house, the night quickly becomes more than just casual drinks and boozy banter. The darkness can’t hide George and Martha’s secrets, and both couple’s lives are about to be altered.
Local actor Michael MacCauley plays George, and he plays him well. MacCauley exudes a man looking back on his life with deep regret. George was once an aspiring author yet allowed his dreams to be dictated. In his wife’s eyes this makes him a sellout. MacCauley grapples with resentment, and when he lets down his guard, he’s simply at his best. This doesn’t appear to be a transformative performance, which perhaps is what makes it so compelling.
Nick and Honey, the younger married couple, are played by a striking Lucky Gretzinger and Julia VanderVeen. Their characters are meant to mirror the older couple before life took its toll on them. Unfortunately, we don’t experience as much of this juxtaposition as Albee intended, but the feeling of ageism is still there. VanderVeen is very playful and has the likeness of a fragile China doll. Her breakdown scene skillfully shatters what seems at first to be a one-noted character. It is a standout moment. Gretzinger wisely catches MacCauley’s wave of ferociousness. However, a noticeable drawback is that Nick doesn’t become scruffy enough as the play goes along. For example, to underscore an attempted sexual encounter, a suggestive missing sock, disheveled hair and exposed tank top could have gone a long way. Also, an edgy bisexual approach to Gretzinger’s character could have explained a lot and in turn gave this production an extra jolt of sensuality.
The sensuality is left up to Callan White as Martha, who steamrolls the audience with her triumphant performance. Like a mature version of Lisa Kudrow, White fearlessly plunges into a garish performance that’s consistently real despite its recklessness. She makes us forget Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar for this role, and that’s an accomplishment. We miss White when she prowls away into the darkness but can picture her making coffee or changing out of a tawdry dress. She’s witchy and elevates the play to new heights. By the end, we cripple with her because we’re able to understand the reason for George and Martha’s games.
This production highlights the comedy, which occasionally tames the shrill note of bitterness. Because of this, the famous shotgun sequence was mostly a let down. At other times, though, the comedy successfully alleviated the overwhelming stress of the play. This production is best when unabashedly provocative and suddenly tender.
The scenic design by Willie Repoley is a marvel. Scattered books offer up the play’s metaphor of discarded dreams, and the back wall represents George and Martha’s blue-eyed son. Lauren Fortuna’s costume design is immensely effective, as is the lighting design by CJ Barnwell.
By the final act, director Hans Meyer has successfully drained our emotions. These terrific actors are certainly put through the wringer. It’s easy to see how this play still holds relevance today. The profanity caused several audience members to cringe and seeing the effects of alcoholism made patrons want to reach for a soda at intermission. ITP and N.C. Stage should be applauded for staging such a challenging piece as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
WHAT: Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?
WHERE: N.C. Stage Company, 15 Stage Lane ncstage.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, May 1. Wednesdays to Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. $16- $40.