Saving Martha

Is Albee's Virginia Woolf a great play? At any rate, it's one that can live again and again.

Bill Irwin as George and Kathleen Turner as Martha
photo: Carol Rosegg
Bill Irwin as George and Kathleen Turner as Martha

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By Edward Albee
Longacre Theatre
220 West 48th Street
212.239.6200

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In this context, it's particularly disappointing that the production has cut, presumably to avoid overtime, the important George-Honey scene at the end of Act Two—the scene in which George gets the idea to "kill" the imaginary son, and learns why Honey and Nick have no children (another parallel between the two couples). Without it, the third act's exorcism seems perfunctory (all the more because Irwin recites the Requiem in the same tone and tempo as George's wisecracks) and a little puzzling. The tormented night of serious drinking and mutual abuse seems to fizzle out rather than come to a natural climax. Even so, it leaves you pondering, as a good production of Virginia Woolf should, not only what has happened to the two couples, but what their interaction says about us, about America, and about human beings in general. In a way, that the production's elements don't always coalesce makes both the richness of Albee's ideas and the firm way he anchors them more visible. If it makes those of us who saw the original production long for the good old days, it also reaffirms the play's power to survive even in diminished circumstances—a guarantee that we're likely to see it again and again.

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