Review: Revival Raises Question, Who Has the Need for 'Virginia Woolf?'

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday May 7, 2022

Graham Phillips, Aimee Carrero, Zachary Quinto and Calista Flockhart in the Geffen Playhouse production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"(Jeff Lorch)
Graham Phillips, Aimee Carrero, Zachary Quinto and Calista Flockhart in the Geffen Playhouse production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"(Jeff Lorch)  

Geffen Playhouse continues to welcome in-person audiences back by bravely staging Edward Albee's lengthy and polarizing classic "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

 

Starring Calista Flockhart and Zachary Quinto, the intense narrative about a dysfunctional couple using and abusing each other and two surprise guests is amusing and horrific in equal parts.

 

The three-act play opens with Martha (Flockhart) and George (Quinto) drunkenly returning from a college faculty party before welcoming in a younger couple, Nick (Graham Phillips) and Honey (Aimee Carrero), they met earlier that night.

 

Martha is loud and crass, and George appears put-upon and without patience for his vulgar wife. There's a bit of love there, but it feels like more like it's the result of the comfort of many years together, not really any deep affection.

 

As they continue to drink, the arrival of new professor Nick and his mousey wife Honey gives the two a chance to work out their annoyances with each other in front of an audience. The stories they tell and the questions they ask all point to a couple using one another for their own amusement. And stories they do tell. But are they true? Or are they fanciful creations used to impress and hurt?

As the play continues, it becomes apparent that not all is what it seems, and that everyone involved has secrets and stories they tell; they all hiding truths they'd rather not reveal. But with poking and prodding from the manipulative people around them, much is brought to the surface, which is when the damage begins.

 

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is not an easy play to watch. While it seems funny at first, spending three hours with unpleasant people can be a chore. This is an actor's play, and certainly a dream to perform, but you can't help but constantly be aware how exhausting it must be for them. 

 

All of the actors are terrific here, with Quinto arguably giving one of his best performances. Having first seen him on the Tori Spelling sit-com "So Notorious" 16 years ago, it's impressive to see how far he's come and how limber he is in different types of roles. Here, there is a sort of pathetic, exhausted aggression that morphs as he gets tired of being a punching bag. It's a subtle, mounting change that works beautifully.

 

Flockhart brings an exhausting and anxious energy to Martha, who is aggressive, manipulative, and damaged in equal measure.

 

Phillips brings a '60s, controlled vibe to Nick, which gets looser and more easily manipulated as our main couple takes control of the night's activities. Carrero is progressively hilarious as the timid Honey, who ends up letting loose the more she drinks. 

 

And drink a lot they do. How these characters could be standing after three hours is anyone's guess, but they manage it — all while destroying everyone around them.

"Woolf" is an interesting show, and it's clear why it's considered a classic, but the three-plus hour running time is daunting and an audience member's enjoyment will be based on whether or not they care to spend that length of time with some rather unlikeable people.

 

"Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" runs through May 22 at the Geffen Playhouse, LA. For more information and for tickets visit geffenplayhouse.org.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.