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Posted March 3, 2006

Kudos for American Cast of "Virginia Woolf" in UK

In this corner, fighting and funny: An Albee marriage

by Matt Wolf, International Herald Tribune (Reprinted by Permission)

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2006 Broadway spends so much time importing productions from Britain ("Festen" and "The History Boys" are next) that it's time to raise a double cheer for the recent New York arrival of Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Just opened at the Apollo Theatre on the West End with its quartet of New York actors intact, the English director Anthony Page's production is, for a while, the funniest London show on view at the moment and then the most harrowing, in turn. The fight to the finish between George and Martha has seldom seemed so bruising.

For that, credit the enduring strength after 40-plus years of Albee's career-making play, which remains best-known from the cinematic catfight engaged in by Richard Burton and an Oscar-winning Elizabeth Taylor in Mike Nichols's 1966 film. As a depiction of the fine line between emotional neglect and need, of intimacies tilting one way toward fierce affection and the next toward flat-out ferocity, Albee's script cuts a no less savage swath today, and Page's keen, inquiring cast does the rest.

The selling point is the Martha of Kathleen Turner, the 1980s screen siren whose recent stage roles in "Indiscretions" and "The Graduate" have veered toward camp. No more. Playing a faculty wife who also happens to be the daughter of the college president, Turner is larger-than-life, as expected, and unexpectedly detailed: watch the smiles that disappear as quickly as they are glimpsed every time her husband, George, lets rip with the very sort of zinger that, later in the play, will sear Martha's already damaged soul.

As the distaff half of the hapless couple who end up in George and Martha's boozy, brutal clutch, Mireille Enos is a revelation as Honey: an innocent gone limp in a living room all too capable of cruelty. (That much is emphasized by David Harbour as an unusually coarse, opportunistic Nick, Honey's none-too-caring husband.) Deepening a performance that won him a Tony Award on Broadway in June, Bill Irwin's George represents the best stage work I've seen from an American actor since Bill Pullman in a more recent Albee play, "The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?": a thin, bespectacled figure coiled for action from a man gone gray with the possibility - and then the reality - of grief.

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