Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is a drama about a marriage on the rocks — one that has been a wreck for decades. But the play is more than that. It is a study of how illusions and delusions sometimes help us through difficulties and how they also can destroy relationships. B Street Theatre is presenting an aggressive, fearless production of the play that has not been without controversy.
Albee’s play was published and had its Broadway debut in 1962. Its coarse language, dark view of American marriage and generally discomforting subject matter are cited by many as the reason it did not win that year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It did, however, win the 1963 Tony for best play.
It is 2 a.m. when George (played by Kurt Johnson) and Martha (Elisabeth Nunziato) return home from a faculty party. Martha is the daughter of the university president; George should be head of his department but is not — which Martha constantly reminds him of and berates him for. They have a nightcap and begin to verbally tease each other in a way that may seem playful but quickly turns vicious. When Martha tells George she has invited new faculty member Nick (Jason Kuykendall) and his wife Honey (Dana Brooke) for after-party drinks, things get rough and tumble. George and Martha enjoy cruel games, with themselves and with their guests. The two couples endure four games directed by George: “Humiliate the Host,” “Get the Guests,” “Hump the Hostess” and “Bringing Up Baby.”
As the drinks flow, words turn bitter and actions cruel. Secrets ultimately are revealed — painful, hurtful secrets. One, in particular, cuts George so deeply that he goes all out to emotionally annihilate Martha. Rage, frustration, disappointment consume the atmosphere.
Dave Pierini directs the stellar cast, each of whom delivers a tour-de-force performance.
The Albee Estate tightly controls production rights to the playwright’s works. To get permission to perform “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” B Street had to get approval of its cast and the director. The Estate should be very proud to have authorized this production.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” runs three hours, with two intermissions, and is presented at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 7 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 29. Tickets are $27-$39. For more information, call (916) 443-5300 or go to www.bstreettheatre.org.