It’s been exactly 50 years since Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? first brayed its way onto Broadway, but Edward Albee’s four-person drama has lost none of its searing psychological power over the years. Director Pam MacKinnon’s sensational new production, which debuted at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company two years ago, arrives in New York with its full cast, led by the remarkable Tracy Letts and Amy Morton as George and Martha, a middle-aged academic couple whose mutual dependency o is matched only by their seeming loathing of each other’s very existence.
Letts, better known as the playwright behind the Pulitzer winner August: Osage County, brings a fresh approach to the usually much quieter role of George, the lowly associate professor of history and long-suffering husband of his New England college president’s daughter. Over the course of three long acts, we watch as this bespectacled lapdog screws up his courage and unleashes the full force of his fury toward his needling wife in the final act.
Morton, who proved so riveting as the eldest daughter in August: Osage County, offers similar surprises as Martha. Far from the shrill, histrionic harpy of some productions, she is still very much a live wire, one whose vulnerabilities always lie just beneath the surface of her outward aggression. Morton’s may be the most sympathetic Martha ever to appear on stage — her implosion in the play’s final scenes is devastating on multiple levels.
As the much younger academic couple who gets caught in the middle of George and Martha’s domestic showdown, Madison Dirks and Carrie Coon prove to be more than throw pillows. Dirks is suitably callow and ambitious, while Coons suggests a certain self-awareness of her future marital woes despite her state of heavy-lidded inebriation.
In the end, though, it is Letts and Morton who put their stamp on the play — and just about manage to eclipse the memory of the fine Broadway revival starring Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner just seven years ago. EW.com In Letts’ and Morton’s capable hands, George and Martha emerge as historic icons, America’s first couple of passive-aggressive dysfunction. A
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