'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' on Broadway: Edward Albee's words cut and shred anew

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It's possible that on the second Sunday in June, Tracy Letts will not be standing on a stage, accepting a Tony Award. However, it is not probable.

Granted, the Broadway season is young. Letts, who won a Tony for writing "August: Osage County," is spectacular in Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

The Steppenwolf Production of the gut-wrenching play makes you wonder just how much misery one couple is capable of inflicting. Incidentally, the answer to that is unknown, as is their love.

Letts plays George, the role made famous by Richard Burton in the 1966 movie. Amy Morton, an established theater actress who is also in "Boss," is Martha, the part that Elizabeth Taylor played. Madison Dirks ("Chicago Fire") and Carrie Coon ("The Playboy Club") make their Broadway debuts as Nick and Honey, the parts made famous by George Segal and Sandy Dennis.

Anyone who has cringed through the movie remembers the performances, but each of these actors puts his or her own spin on it. And what delicious roles they have as they get to say Edward Albee's words -- his vicious, nasty exchanges.

George is a history professor at a small New England college, where Martha's father is president. They have been married for 23 years and fighting for centuries longer than that. They are smart and ruthless, cutting, vicious and in need of an audience.

That audience is the young couple; she's a bit more naive than a wounded kitten, and she holds her brandy about as well. He's a cocky biology professor, who was a quarterback and a boxer. Like most marriages, theirs has a history best not shared with anyone outside of it.

George and Martha's union is hideous, yet fascinating. Being in the presence of a couple
capable of reducing each other to emotional tatters does have its train-wreck appeal.

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After a boozy party welcoming them to the college, Martha invites Nick and Honey back to their book-strewn, well-worn home. The amount of hooch they consume is actually impressive and as the night wears on, their fangs grow longer and sharper.

Albee's talents have been praised for years; he has won two Tonys and three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. And yet, while watching, I want to write a thank you letter to his mother for conceiving him.

Over-the-top praise? No. In a season that has been lackluster so far, this revival is that magnificent. Though audiences seem to be conditioned lately to jump to their feet the moment the last light dims and wildly ovate - often for reasons unclear -- this was a genuine outpouring of gratitude. And with good cause.
Photo/Video credit: Michael Brosilow