The only thing George and Martha enjoy more than a party is playing games. And the only thing they enjoy more than games, is playing them with unsuspecting guests because the carnage is so much more spectacular when they do.
To call Edward Albee’s three-act play about George and Martha a tour-de-force production for any theater company is a bit like calling a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail a long walk. New Surry Theatre in Blue Hill has mounted a masterful production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and conquered what is a challenging American play.
Directed by Dindy Royster, the show not only honors Albee, who died in September at the age of 88, it reminds theatergoers of how skillful the playwright was at sucking out his characters’ marrow and displaying it onstage.
Royster understands that there is a wave-like rhythm to each of Albee’s acts, and she skillfully shows her actors how to successfully ride each one without ever wiping out. Performers are able to make each character his or her own without mimicking the mannerisms of the actors who famously starred in the 1966 film. Royster and her cast’s respect for and love of Albee’s dialogue is always obvious.
Tim Pugliese’s portrayal of George is masterful. He is nuanced and sardonic, playful and vicious. His George is a man who thinks too much, which is how he bests Martha. As played by Pugliese, George is almost always the manipulative gamemaster, even though he sometimes lets Martha believe she’s in charge.
As Martha, Cindy Robbins matches Pugliese’s performance. She is especially adept at Albee’s verbal sparring. Robbins’ Martha is slightly softer, a bit more vulnerable than other actresses have played her, but that works perfectly with her co-star’s flinty performance. Robbins adeptly dons Martha’s thwarted ambition and passion as if it were a second skin.
Bryan Lescord and Leanne Nickon portray the unsuspecting guests, Nick and Honey, with a charming naivety. Lescord comfortably wears Nick’s arrogance and certitude. Nickon’s Honey is a sweet concoction whose center may be rotten. Both actors match Pugliese and Robbins’ performances line for line, blow for blow, as Nick and Honey struggle to keep their heads above the waves of the tsunami that is George and Martha’s relationship.
New Surry’s technical team that includes JulieJo Fehrle, Elena Bourakovsk, Jennifer Jacobi and Frank John give George and Martha’s home a realistic, lived-in look. The set, lights and sound are so natural, theatergoers feel as if they are peering in through George and Martha’s living room window rather than sitting in an audience.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is long and, sometimes, emotionally painful, but New Surry Theatre’s production is worth every moment. Too often artistic directors are more concerned with offering plays that please but do not challenge an audience. New Surry’s longtime artistic director Bill Raiten and everyone involved in this production deserve a standing ovation for taking such a theatrical risk and pulling it off so beautifully.
New Surry Theatre’s production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” will be performed weekends through Oct. 29 at Blue Hill Town Hall. For information, call 200-4720. Tickets may be purchased at the Blue Hill Library.