Edward Albee Peels the Facade of Hypocrisy & Illusion
by K. Marguerite Caronna
Tolstoy tells us: “Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Edward Albee’s depiction of an American marriage affirms the truth that appearances deceive. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” peers into the enduring complexities of a marriage. The play and OTP’s production are rich in complexity and intensity—a crescendo of harrowing emotional revelations.
Under the deft direction of Michael Socrates Moran, the layers of sorrow and love, games and blame, failure and desire are slowly peeled away. Veterans Lisa Ramirez (Martha) and Adrian Roberts (George) take vicious glee in their abrasive word play. Well matched in an unflagging dynamic, they careen toward degradation and deliberate vengeance.
George, a history professor, and wife Martha invite a hapless younger couple for late night drinks. Nick, an ambitious newcomer, and his “mousey” spouse Honey join an evening of alcohol, accusation, and counter accusation. Nick and Honey are pulled into the vortex of the older couple’s spiteful recriminations as all their sordid histories unfold.
Dina Zarif’s minimalist set creates voyeuristic intimacy. Elevated stepped boxes form a living room, a squared circle, a boxing ring. Martha paces the perimeter like a prisoner in an Ivory Tower. On the upper level sits the altar of the liquor cart, silent purveyor of dysfunction.
Cast photos are projected on rear paper covered mirrors. George and Martha clink glasses in greeting like sparring pugilists. They come out swinging feverishly, verbally jabbing through a delusional landscape, and tearing at their hypocrisies.
Martha has been the object of men’s plans her entire life. Her father, the college president, used her as hostess, and her husband used her to ascend the academic ladder. But Martha has foundered both at producing an heir and in her marriage. By American nuclear family standards, she is a failure. Controlled by men, Martha craves agency.
Designer Kevin Myrick lights the scenes from glaring brashness to spot lit intimacy, enhanced by ominous rumblings created by sound designer Elton Bradman. Costume designer Marina Polakoff gives dark, tousle-haired Martha black, and then seducer red. Honey (Wera von Wulfen) with tidy blond braids, wears virginal white.
George looks buttoned-down academic; while Nick (Willam Hodgson) channels all American preppy, convincingly shifting from smug to woeful. By the end of the evening, the couple morph into a younger George and Martha.
Yet, there is a monotone pitch to the cycling of Martha’s personas and George’s ripping that suppresses our sympathy. More nuances would lend credibility to the emotional climax.
The finale destroys their illusions of a “happy family” as papers are peeled away from the mirrors, and all is bared. Martha fears the wolf—subsumed by patriarchal predations. Or is it only a momentary détente in an endless conflict?
Catch this rare opportunity to see a classic. Beware of getting too close to the heat—it’s not easy to watch at close range. Albee’s play touches the American soul.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by Edward Albee, directed by Michael Socrates Moran, at Oakland Theater Project. Info: OaklandTheaterProject.org – to June 18, 2023.
Cast: Lisa Ramirez, Adrian Roberts, William Hodgson, and Wera von Wulfen.
Banner photo: Adrian Roberts (George) & Lisa Ramirez (Martha). Photos: Ben Krantz Studio