“Are you afraid of living life without illusions?” That is the question that will be on the minds of those who wander out of the luxurious McPherson theatre and into the cool night air after watching this evocative performance.
After taking in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? viewers will feel as if they have lived vicariously blow-by-vicious-blow through an emotional boxing match between two serious heavyweights. This 1962 Edward Albee play, presented by the talented team of Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre, is a memorable night of theatre that audiences in Victoria should not miss.
The story chronicles the late-night, booze-soaked party games of two faculty couples on the campus of a New England university. Sweet and innocent young newlyweds Nick and Honey are the reluctant and awkward audience for the verbal jibes of older couple Martha and George. As the night progresses and Martha and George get meaner with every swig of liquor, the hosts of this messy party reveal the uncomfortable truths and lies that their strained relationship is based on.
Although Meg Tilly has been absent from the stage for nearly three decades, she strolls into the role of Martha with the utmost swagger and confidence. She puts her entire body into the performance, throwing her head back with every loud braying laugh and swinging her hips seductively. She plays every note on the scale of human emotion, from quiet fear to flamboyant bravado.
Andrew Wheeler, in the role of George, creates the perfect foil to Tilly’s raunchy shenanigans, by maintaining a cool exterior in spite of all of her tantrums. Late into the evening Martha begins bumping and grinding and kissing with young Nick right in front of George, and is driven mad with frustration when George simply pulls out a chair and begins to read a book.
Alex Plouffe adds many interesting layers to the character of Nick, who can be impeccably behaved and ambitious one moment, and then deviously lustful the next. He is joined by Celine Stubel, who creates the sweet and innocent character of Honey perfectly. Over the three-hour duration of her performance, she goes through all of the classic stages of one who is inexperienced at drinking, from the giddy giggles, to a brandy-induced unabashed “interpretive dance,” to sleeping on her husband’s shoulder and running dramatically to the other room to be sick. Her clueless interjections and sugary enthusiasm provide a welcome dose of comic relief to the heavy tone of the play.
It is a difficult task to direct a play of this magnitude, and director Brian Richmond has handled it brilliantly. The complicated balance is maintained between tension-dissolving humour and brutal drama, and the fascinating yet horrifying climax is revealed cleverly. The audience is held on edge through the long performance, and when the powerful story comes to an end its easy to rise to a standing ovation.
Woolf is definitely no “feel-good” play, but it’s not meant to be. The verbal jibes that Martha and George throw at each other make the audience wince as if they were watching a circus performer juggle with razor sharp knives. Viewers should not expect to leave the theatre feeling uplifted, as there is very little happiness in George and Martha’s endless battle. However, this classic piece of theatre is raw, real and unforgettable, and audiences will walk out of the McPherson in absolute awe at the range of talent that the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre has to showcase. M
By Kelly Dunning
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
(#3 Centennial Square), Until July 17
Tickets $38-$43 rmts.bc.ca