Reviewed by Judy Richter
Kathleen Turner may be the big draw, but co-star Bill Irwin is every bit her equal or perhaps better in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Arriving in San Francisco, the national tour of the 2005 Broadway revival of Edward Albee's 1962 drama makes that point clear. Or perhaps that's the impression that emerges after more than three hours of watching the momentous verbal battle between married combatants Martha and George. George begins to gain the upper hand in this round in part because he remains sober in this 2004 revision of the script.
Irwin won a Tony for his performance as George, an associate professor of history at the small Eastern college presided over by Martha's father. Although Martha and George have long had a contentious relationship, it's apparent that both of them gain some measure of satisfaction from the arguments and insults, which have become a game for them. For the most part, Martha has more power than George because she's the president's daughter, but that power is somewhat diluted by what appears to be her alcoholism.
On this particular night, they have been at a faculty party hosted by her father for new faculty members and their wives. (Remember, this is 1960, when far fewer women taught at the college level.) When they return home at 2 a.m., George is exhausted and just wants to go to bed, but Martha informs him that they're about to have guests. She has invited Nick, new to the biology department, and his wife, Honey, over for a nightcap. The battle commences upon the arrival of the younger couple, both in their 20s.
Albee has named Act 1 "Fun and Games," Act 2 "Walpurgisnacht" and Act 3 "The Exorcism." The names are apt, for Act 1 is something of a lighter, more humorous version of George and Martha's bickering. Act 2 becomes more vicious, like the diabolical revelry that is an English translation for "Walpurgisnacht." Act 3 is when George truly asserts his strength and takes a huge risk by ending his and Martha's most co-dependent game, which involves a son.
David Furr as Nick and Kathleen Early as Honey, his simpering wife, take a journey of their own as they observe and then to some extent take part in Martha and George's issues. Furr reveals the raw ambition that lies just beneath Nick's good looks, while Early shows hints of the manipulativeness beneath the mousey surface of Honey, a difficult role because it's the smallest.
As directed by Anthony Page, the action sometimes lags, especially in the men's conversation in Act 1. The cavernous Golden Gate Theatre also works against the production, resulting in a loss of intimacy and distancing much of the audience from the characters. John Lee Beatty's living room set, lighted by Peter Kaczorowski, helps somewhat by not extending to the wings. Jane Greenwood's costumes establish the '60s mileau. The sound, which ran into audibility problems in Act 3, is by Mark Bennett and Michael Creason.
One of the joys of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" is that each production seems to find new meaning or add new understanding for the audience. That's the case here as George and Martha try to get through their marital minefield to venture into new territory that may or may not be better for them.