PISCATAWAY, NJ—Aside from attending the 2005 Broadway revival and several college productions, this reviewer has indulged himself in numerous non-equity productions of Edward Albee’s signature masterwork: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
This reviewer can say with the highest of confidence Circle Players’ spellbinding production from a non-equity standpoint has taken a commanding lead.
Circle, compared to its theatrical neighbors has some decided disadvantages.
It’s small, it’s old, and it really has no stage. But those disadvantages have often worked in this scruffy theater’s favor.
No theater is better equipped by default to stage Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf than Circle Players of Piscataway. Several times this reviewer, who stands about five feet seven inches, had to pull his legs back to give way to one of the actors and that was a good thing.
That meant everyone in the audience was in George and Martha’s New England living room.
It’s late, after a university party. Middle-aged husband and Wife George and Martha are expecting company. Just before Nick and Honey, the university’s newest hire and his slim-hipped wife arrive.
Martha and George begin their night-long verbal bloodbath. What follows is some of the most caustic, venomous, and most brilliant dialogue ever written for the stage.
When a Non-equity theater does a popular play that’s also been a movie, there is the danger of preconception by both the actors and the director. Often that work becomes nothing more than a recycled version of an equity production or worse the movie.
Circle’s riveting production, under the direction of Jessica Damrow Sherman asserted its own identity.
One of the things separating this production from others seen by this reviewer was George. Passive-aggressive, detached, and disaffected, George normally takes a defensive posture in this verbal mêlée.
This George, intensely played by Mike Johnson, is assertive to the point of being aggressive and he’s battling Martha for the offensive.
From a purist’s standpoint, this shouldn’t have worked. But it did and exceedingly well, thanks to Johnson and his noted skill.
Unwilling to surrender the offensive, Laura Devino’s Martha was serpent-like in her strikes against George and her attacks on Nick.
Ms. Devino’s, obvious ability at this role gave Martha a cunning subtlety that brought a freshness to this indomitable character.
If the role of Honey isn’t played correctly, that character can quickly morph into an annoying drunk. Anna Paone didn’t let that happen.
Paone’s rendition of the exploited and deluded Honey was Admirable and invoked the required amount of sympathy deserved by Honey.
The excellent Thom Boyer was Nick, the vapid fulcrum in this evening of spiteful games and cutting phrases.
This reviewer has often wondered if Nick, who appears to be a more mature version of the George and Martha’s so-called child wasn’t pulled in to this deliberately to prompt the final showdown over “the little bugger” for fear they were creating their own Nick and had to stop it.
A couple of minor issues. Nick, a champion boxer and football jock, did at times seemed to be a bid of a nerd. Some of George’s screams were a bit intense.
Circle Player’s well-acted, well-directed, and well-staged version of one of the most preeminent dramas ever written is highly recommended.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf runs until March 22. Ticket information and showtimes are available online at circleplayers.org.