“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at Seattle Rep

Fifty-two years ago Edward Albee electrified theatre audiences with a play that exploded the myth of the happy marriage. No June Cleavers or Robert Young fathers here! And now Seattle audiences have an opportunity to revisit this groundbreaking American play in a stunning production at Seattle Rep directed by Braden Abraham, and it’s as powerful now as it was then

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(l to r) Amy Hill, Aaron Blakely, Pamela Reed and R. Hamilton Wright in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo: Alabastro Photography.

George and Martha, a middle-aged faculty couple at a small college, have invited a young, new professor and his naive wife over for a post-party nightcap. In the liquor binge that follows, a venomous no-holds-barred free-for-all strips off the masks behind which they hide, revealing the sad, unfulfilled expectations that have rotted their marriage.

It’s heart breaking; it’s horrifying, and it’s incredibly funny. Albee, astute observer of unsuccessful marriages won both a Tony and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for the play. It was also chosen for a Pulitzer Prize by the drama jury, but rejected by the advisory committee because of profanity and sexual themes. (Some things do change over time.)

In this electrifying production, Pamela Reed as Martha burns up the stage. She’s a braying, harridan, filled with rancor, explosive with anger. Watch her leg twitch back and forth as she readies her next demeaning salvo. Listen to her harsh laugh. Watch her cruel facial expressions.

R. Hamilton Wright as George gives almost as good as he gets. He wounds with a little more grace, but his cruelty is equally noxious. He stalks before attacking. She demeans. He snipes and knows exactly how to hurt her the most.

Meanwhile Aaron Blakely and Amy Hill as the young couple trapped in this snake pit move from bewildered horror to their own form of dysfunction. I loved the fact that Ms. Hill, was dressed in powder blue, a color for innocent babies. Turns out neither she nor her husband are true innocents, but they have a long way to go to equal Martha and George.

You’ll laugh a lot at this show. Albee is brilliant at inserting really funny dialog within a really horrifying examination of marriage, a marriage where husband and wife try to destroy each other even as they realize they can’t live without one another. This is a production that shouldn’t be missed.

Through May 18 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206 443-2222 or www.seattlerep.org)

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