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VIRGINIA WOOLFE
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The Akron Beacon Journal
Virginia Woolf' cast sinks teeth into Albee
Actors' Summit performance doesn't shrink from play's dark humor and violent absurdity
By Kerry Clawson - Beacon Journal staff writer

At some point, most people have been unwillingly privy to another couple's ugly argument, or gotten into a loose-lipped, heated debate with folks they hardly know when everybody has been drinking too much at a party.

Those scenarios are taken to the nth degree in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a lashing, biting, brutal specimen of language that nonetheless has plenty of dark humor. The Actors' Summit presentation of the Tony Award-winning play, which opened Friday night in Hudson, superbly draws out the meaty -- albeit sick -- humor that makes this play entertaining.

In less talented hands, Virginia Woolf could be an exhausting downer. But though the characters are drained and broken at the play's end, the audience is not.

This dynamic cast takes us on a wild ride from a very funny first act through successively darker, more menacing second and third acts. No matter how ugly the insults and humiliation get, the nearly three-hour Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? keeps you in anticipation. One wonders how all this mess could possibly be resolved.

At the heart of the play is actor Tom Fulton, who masterfully controls the show in the role of the verbally abused George. George could easily be portrayed as the impotent waste of a human being that Martha views him as.

Yet, through Fulton, we see that he is extremely intelligent, witty and detests hypocrisy. Fulton is captivating as he turns from mockery one moment to seething anger and violent outbursts the next.

As the foul-mouthed, caustic Martha, Paula Duesing is much funnier than one would imagine. Her annoyingly scratchy voice is perfect for Martha's abusive character. This brilliantly written play focuses on unhealthy, abnormal relationships, both with older couple George and Martha, and the younger Nick and Honey. Albee shows us that in different ways, both couples are avoiding the truth

 

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George and Martha enjoy drawing the younger couple into their sick games of degradation, including ``Humiliate the Host,'' ``Get the Guests'' and ``Hump the Hostess.'' George and Martha thrive on their verbal wars: Ironically, it's what keeps their love-hate relationship going. In an odd way, these two need each other very much.

Duesing and Fulton are thoroughly believable as the sparring couple. One of their funnier moments occurs when they both turn on Nick.

As horrid as George and Martha are, we see that Nick is really the biggest slime. Peter Voinovich's smug, blond Nick cares only about his own ambition. His marriage to his ridiculously childlike wife, Honey (Susanna Hobrath), is as empty as George and Martha's.

Playwright Albee has said that his play is an indictment against an American society that values ambition and progress more than relationships that have respect, meaning and compassion.

Most of Virginia Woolf's humor lies in its violent absurdity. George and Martha call their son a ``little bugger'' and a ``beanbag.'' George makes up a nasty story about Blondie and his Mouse wife (Nick and Honey). In a scary moment, George aims a trick gun at Martha. Later, she tries to bait her husband by openly seducing Nick in front of him.

Albee, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, was denied a Pulitzer for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1962 because its brutality caused so much controversy. Today, it remains shocking but is not appalling.

One of the major themes of the play is the blurred line between illusion and reality. The audience is often left guessing what's the truth -- a big part of what makes this dark comedy so intriguing.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, can be seen at Actors' Summit, 86 Owen Brown St., Hudson, through April 21, Thurs-Sat at 8 p.m.; and Sun 3:30 p.m. Tickets are $20-$22; $16-$18 for students and seniors. For further information call 330-342-0800.

© Copyright Tom Fulton 2001-1004