Stage Review: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – it doesn’t get better than this

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And you thought the Westons over at the Stanley Theatre had issues?  Wait until you meet George and Martha.   With the pharmaceuticals replaced by alcohol, the Arts Club presentation of Blackbird Theatre’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ups the ante in an evening of theatre that is near perfect.

Married for 23 years George (Kevin McNulty) and Martha (Gabrielle Rose) have a bipolar relationship steeped in hatred, regret, love and lots and lots of booze.  A history professor at the local College where Martha’s father is the president, the duo invites the newest member of the faculty, Nick (Craig Erickson) and his mousey wife Honey (Meg Roe) for a nightcap.  Problem is, none of them can stop at just a single nightcap.  As the evening (and morning) progresses, fuelled by their bottomless glasses of gin, bourbon and brandy, the four spiral into a relentless abyss of emotional and sometimes physical abuse.   Leading the way down are George and Martha who drag their guests kicking and screaming along with them.

McNulty and Rose are at the top of their games here.  If I hadn’t known better I would have sworn playwright Edward Albee wrote the part of George with McNulty in mind.  His performance is so nuanced and is equally spellbinding to watch whether his insults are flung with a smile upon his lips or with his hands around Martha’s throat.   Rose has the drunken Martha down perfectly in a tour de force performance that sees her turn from emotionally gutting George to seducing their house guest as quickly as she could open her second bottle of gin.

While McNulty and Rose lead the way, that doesn’t mean Erickson and Roe are left behind with each turning in rock solid performances as well.  Erickson easily captures the smugness of Nick and Roe is particularly fun to watch as her Honey travels the bumpy road of too much brandy.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Gabrielle Rose, Meg Roe, Craig Erickson, Kevin McNulty in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo by David Cooper.

Director John Wright not only helps pull astonishing performances from his actors, he makes what might easily be a theatrical marathon into an evening that flies by, despite its 3+ hour run-time and two intermissions.

I joined my fellow theatre-goers on their feet last night for the first time in 2011.  This is a riveting piece of theatre and my new benchmark.  It simply doesn’t get any better than this and deserving of the first five stars of the year.

5 out of 5 Stars Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

By Edward Albee.  Directed by John Wright.  An Arts Club Theatre Company presentation of a Blackbird Theatre Company production.  On stage at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage through March 12, 2011.

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