THE WASHINGTON Theater Wing's skillful, modest revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" offers two good opportunities: to rediscover Edward Albee's classic at full length and full strength, and to discover an enterprising new troupe with a comfortable 120-seat theater.
It's easy to do this play badly, and director Jean V. Cutler overcomes the temptation to ape the overwhelming and overwrought performances of the famous (and truncated) Taylor-Burton movie version. Washington Theater Wing returns it to human scale.
Late, late one Saturday night in the college town of New Carthage, George and Martha, an older couple, practice their long- rehearsed scripts on young newcomers Nick and Honey. George and Martha expertly flagellate themselves and lash out at their guests as they all spend a liquor-ridden evening playing biter, blue party games and mourning their "dashed hopes and good intentions."
Cutler paces the long evening swiftly, and wisely bows to Albee's deliberate, ritual structure. Albee titled the three acts "Fun and Games" "Walpurgisnacht" and "The Exorcism," and they darken progressively, like an oncoming storm front.
Cutler has instructed his actors to temper the spectacular fireworks, which have the potential to eclipse the play itself. Ramona Rhoades is an earthy, shrewish Martha, and employs a few well-chosen Elizabeth Taylor mannerisms to good effect.
Bill McGill is even better as her husband George, the ineffectual history professor threatened by "biology" and the reminder of his own failure. McGill's bland, pasty grin conceals George's razor-edged wit and malice.
As Nick, the young biology professor, Joe Palka lacks the necessary sexual menace and so robs the play of a degree of tension. As "his mouse, a wifey little type," Elizabeth Hansen is a very funny Honey, a tittering simp a la Sandy Dennis.
The play benefits from a careful production, with a detailed set suggesting the comfortable shabbiness and neglect of college aesthetes, right down to the 1965 issues of "Saturday Review" on the end tables.
Perhaps commenting on the drama, Albee has George say at one point, "It isn't the prettiest spectacle, seeing a couple of middle-aged types hacking away at each other, all red in the face, missing half the time." It's true -- it's not pretty, but it is pretty funny, and at Washington Theater Wing it's also revealing.