By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
A long-suffering married couple, George (Brett Sullivan Santry) and Martha (Joanna Lowe), invite a younger, newly-married couple, Nick (Tom Kolos) and Honey (Hilary Caldwell), back to their home for an unwitting evening of intense psychological warfare in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
The eponymous title is a quip Martha may have coined at a party, a literary spin on the child’s nursery rhyme. The true author of the intellectual joke is unclear, but the pun reverberates throughout the play. The witty song changes intent from humor, to accusation to, finally, a sad treatise of the events, a commentary on truth and illusion.
George and Martha are lost, spiritually and emotionally, but they both retain their keen mental prowess. Their wit is searing as they tear each other apart. Most couple’s play charades with their guests, George and Martha play devastatingly maniacal games such as “Get the Guests,” “Hump the Hostess” and “Bringing Up Baby.”
Nick and Honey are, at first, mortified by the couple’s churlish behavior, but, eventually, they become enmeshed in the acts of verbal carnage.
Santry and Lowe are brilliant as George and Martha. Their performances are flawless. They cajole and vex each other for nearly three hours (there are two intermissions, before the second and third acts). They are land mines in the living room, with megatons of explosive energy.
Kolos and Caldwell are capable sparing partners. Kolos gives a terrific performance as Nick. He seethes with righteous anger, beams with pride, reveals his own dark secrets and is eventually humbled by his hosts.
Caldwell’s job is a little easier. She’s the drunken comic relief. She has a few moments of clarity and quakes with fear, but her role is not as dark and dense as her fellow performers. She plays it with aplomb.
The most amazing thing about this production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is the venue. George, Martha and their guests, Nick and Honey, tear and claw at one another in a modest living room in the middle of a Point Breeze home. The audience sits on folding chairs inches away from the actors. It’s an immersive experience. The closer you are to the performance, the more intimate it becomes. It’s slightly uncomfortable, but fully engaging. In small audiences of twenty, sometimes a laugh spills out at inappropriate time. It can be uncomfortable and self-conscious, but you should feel right at home in this production. The wit pours out almost as frequently as the alcohol.
The cast huffs and puffs and eventually blows down the house. They are impeccable performances.
Everett Lowe’s frenetic pacing makes the three hour running time seem short. There’s something about the immersive venue: the play feels urgent, momentous and important.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is dark and twisted, like black licorice. Much like onyx braids of Twizzlers, the bitter aftertaste isn’t for everyone. For the rest of us, it’s downright delicious.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is performed in an undisclosed location in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood. For more information about tickets, or to make reservations, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (412) 334-3126. Additional information can be found here.