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'Virginia Woolf' leaves audience wide-eyed

By BARBARA FREDRICKSEN
Published April 17, 2007


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If you love and appreciate fine, serious drama, you owe it to yourself and to others to go see the Stage West Community Playhouse production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Rarely, if ever, do you get a chance to see such a powerful story with such exquisite acting, not even on a professional stage.

Director Harvey Lasky calls the play a director's dream, and his every dream must have been fulfilled by the four splendid actors in his cast (and theirs with his matchless direction).

This play deserves a large audience to encourage a small theater like Stage West to bring us more such engrossing theater experiences.

Virginia Woolf is not a play for kids or sissies, and several elderly ladies did depart after the first of the three acts, either confused by the intense and many-faceted story, driven away by the profanity and coarse language or offended by the overt sexuality, which is the sum and substance of much grownup drama and literature.

Those who stayed were wide-eyed and enthralled as they watched the layers of secrets and lies peel away like a rotting onion for nearly 31/2 hours, including two brief intermissions. There's no dozing during this show; you simply don't want to miss a word. And the intimate Forum auditorium and brilliant enunciation by the actors make sure that you don't.

Virginia Woolf is set in small New England college town in the 1950s in the home of George (Paul Gibson), a failed assistant history professor, and Martha (Dianne Maughan), the anguished and frustrated daughter of the college president. The action starts at 2 a.m., after still another faculty party at the president's residence to welcome still another young, ambitious teacher, Nick (Dan Brijbag), and his soft, naive wife Honey (Jessica Nichol).

As the young couple arrives for an after-party drink, George and Martha continue a raging verbal battle that has apparently been going on for more than two decades.

Nick and Honey find themselves drawn into it, as fascinated by the whole thing as those of us in the audience.

It's all a neverending game, with George taunting Martha, Martha goading George, Nick challenging George while looking for an opening to Martha in hopes of advancing his fledgling academic career and Honey wandering around in drunken bewilderment. The games go round and round, escalating and ebbing, then escalating to further heights. There is no good guy or bad guy, just complex, troubled, tormented and genuine human beings. It wouldn't be fair to the play or the actors to tell what happens. The right to know that must be earned by experiencing the play in person.

Suffice it to say that longtime professional opera singer Paul Gibson is absolutely mesmerizing in his Stage West debut as George, his lips curled in perpetual sarcasm, his anger boiling underneath his resentment and need.

"There are easier things in the world than being married to the daughter of the (college) president," he tells Nick. Did George marry her to further his own career, or did he actually love her - and love her still, despite what he says and does?

Ms. Maughan is a worthy match to Gibson, her Martha spitting out fury and raw lust as she humiliates George to his face and pours out her love for him when he's absent.

Award-winning actors Brijbag and Ms. Nichol bring their own considerable talents to their roles as the young mirror images of George and Martha, an ominous reminder of history repeating itself.

These are consummate performers, so well prepared and confident on stage that the audience can easily forget they're watching a play and relax into the emotions of the story itself.

The distractions are few -Nick's trousers need a good hem, and the sound operator missed a crucial cue on opening night -but those are easily corrected.

This is a play worthy of attention and a cast and crew that portend wonderful things to come.

If you go

'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'

The drama continues through Sunday at the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Shows are at 2 p.m. Sunday and at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $10. Call (352) 683-5113.

[Last modified April 16, 2007, 22:17:15]


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