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VIRGINIA WOOLFE
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Hudson Times

Don't be afraid of this 'Virginia Woolf' Actors' Summit brings quality production of American classic to stage


David Richey - Ph.D. in communications and associate professor of communications at The University of Akron.

Member of the American Theatre Critics Association

HUDSON -- Actors' Summit Theater is staging "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" through April 21. When the play first opened in New York in 1962, the American theater changed forever. A young, fresh playwright brought an electrifying drama to the stage. And despite the accomplished actors who have played the roles of this dramatic quartet, the star has always been the playwright, Edward Albee. The Pulitzer Prize Committee, in a memorable act of cowardice, did not award Albee its prize for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" No award was given in drama that year.

During the last years of the 20th century, Albee lost his audience. At the February meeting of the American Theatre Critics Association in New York City, Albee said to the group, "I'm in again. My favor with audiences and critics seems to go in decade-long cycles. Now, I'm popular again."

He's right. The winner of three Pulitzer Prizes in drama is back on top. On Broadway, his "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" is playing. Off-Broadway, Anne Bancroft has the leading role in Albee's "Occupant." And in Hudson, Actors' Summit is presenting an exciting production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

The plot involves a late-night party at the home of George and Martha. George is a member of the history faculty at a small New England college. Martha, his wife, is the daughter of the college president. They've invited to their home Nick, a new faculty member, and Honey, his wife.

In most productions, Martha dominates the evening's ribald games. But Neil Thackaberry (director) moved the emphasis from Martha and made George her equal. The production works much better when the two leading roles have equally strong spirits.

Paula Duesing (Martha) seems to make any play come to life with her ability to act and live in the moment. She was remarkable as a dying cancer patient, Vivian Bearing, in "Wit." In this production, Duesing makes Albee's words cut as deep and as painfully as possible. Once again, she makes the stage shimmer with her honesty and her exquisite acting ability.

Tom Fulton (George) doesn't make the history professor a weak husband dominated by a shrill wife. Too often George's weakness becomes a structural problem. Fulton makes George strong and capable of being equal in any fight Martha might start.

Peter Voinovich (Nick) looks and struts like a new faculty member whose Ph.D. diploma still has wet ink on it. He may be new to the faculty, but this Nick knows what he has to do to climb the academic ladder to the administration building. Voinovich makes Nick a university athlete who plans to use his athletic prowess and his combative personality to become a campus presence. Scratch this faculty member, and you'll find a streetwise, tough guy.

Susanna Hobrath (Honey) instigates some of the plot's actions. Unfortunately, Hobrath is at the mercy of a playwright who has almost left her out of the script. Hobrath lets Honey whine and complain so much that the character lacks any charm. The audience is left wondering why Nick married her, even with her substantial bank account.

The stage setting forces the audience into the party. The action is so close to the audience that I was tempted to ask George for a drink as he was serving them to everyone on stage.

This is a first-rate production of the best play written by one of this country's best playwrights.

Albee has the courage to write for adults. He knows adults and he brings them to the stage in their raw, unpolished vulnerability. That elusive "adult ability" is what makes him so appealing as a playwright.

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© Copyright Tom Fulton 2001-1004