PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Who 's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: George vs. Martha in Three-Act Rounds

News   PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Who 's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: George vs. Martha in Three-Act Rounds Made to order for those of us who do not have enough marital disharmony in our lives, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? nestled into the Longacre for its third Broadway outing March 20, with Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin the abrasive Everycouple who verbally duke it out to dawn's early light, "exercising . . . walking what's left of our wits."
From Top: Kathleen Turner, Bill Iriwn, David Harbour, Mirielle Enos, Edward Albee, Daryl Roth & Scott Rudin, Paula Vogel, Cherry Jones, Adriane Lenox, Mike Bloomberg, Anna Deveare Smith, George Grizzard, Marian Seldes, Charles Busch, Anthony Page
From Top: Kathleen Turner, Bill Iriwn, David Harbour, Mirielle Enos, Edward Albee, Daryl Roth & Scott Rudin, Paula Vogel, Cherry Jones, Adriane Lenox, Mike Bloomberg, Anna Deveare Smith, George Grizzard, Marian Seldes, Charles Busch, Anthony Page Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Yes, back among us, in fighting form, are George and Martha (not Washington, just representatively American)—she, a college president's daughter; he, "an old bog in the history department"—and they've invited fresh blood to their lair, a young faculty couple new to the campus (Nick and Honey: David Harbour and Mirelle Enos) for some early ayem fun 'n' games and lots of drinks. It's a long day's journey into a sobering dawn.

The curtain went up at 5 PM because the playwright had a plane to catch. Edward Albee was last seen right before curtain—while Elaine Stritch was commandeering seats in the last row and barking seating instructions ("Nobody is sitting there! You are sitting there!")—at the back of the theatre, huddling with his favorite "lunatic producer," Elizabeth I. McCann, and some of her Grade-A co-producers (Daryl Roth, Terry Allen Kramer, Scott Rudin, Roger Berlind, James L. Nederlander and Nick Simunek). He zipped backstage to wish the cast well, then took off on The Wings of Man for North Carolina.

"He's teaching at the North Carolina School of the Arts," explained McCann. "It's an engagement he made eight months ago. He has to be in class tomorrow at nine o'clock."

Pity. Albee's presence was felt throughout the three-act, three-hour verbal donnybrook that followed and, most acutely, at the tumultuous curtain call. Time has been very good to his masterpiece, which has outgrown its initial controversy and assumed its rightful place among the great plays. And Albee has gone on to win three Pulitzer Prizes—without Woolf being one of them. The faint-hearted Pulitzer judges opted not to give an award that year rather than honor a foul-talking drama. (Act One begins with "Jesus H. Christ!" and ends with a simple "Jesus"; in between, and beyond, is a confetti splattering of colorful expletives which zing and sting.) If you count this as his invisible Pulitzer Prize, Albee equals the all-time record of four, set (posthumously) by Eugene O'Neill.

Paula Vogel wound up being the designated Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of the evening, and she arrived all-smiles. "I'm really excited about this," she bubbled. "This is really more of a religious experience for those of us who love American theatre." And more worship-ables are on the way, dotting the immediate horizon. The next American classic to reach Broadway will bow March 22—Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie—at the Barrymore, and it's followed April 26 by Williams' equally stunning A Streetcar Named Desire. Jessica Lange's Amanda Wingfield in the former and Natasha Richardson's Blanche DuBois in the latter should give Turner's Martha a run for a Tony.

These are the three tall women of the Broadway season so, understandably, Cherry Jones moseyed across the street from the Walter Kerr to check out her competition. (Critics have lavishly praised her performance of the strong-willed nun in Doubt, John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer possibility which officially transfers to Broadway at the end of the month.) "I'm being a good neighbor," Jones slyly insisted as she entered the Longacre.

Adriane Lenox, one of her Doubt co-stars and also a likely Tony contender, got caught up in the opening-night log-jam but didn't attend. "I can't," she said. "They just gave us the tickets today. I wish I had known because I would have tried to free myself for this."

Also fresh from her matinee, having blown out her candles less than an hour before, was the Laura of The Glass Menagerie, Sarah Paulson. "I'm here for Kathleen," she announced. "We did a movie-of-the week together 17 years ago called Things That Last. She played my mother, and Colm Feore, who's in Julius Caesar [Cassius to Denzel Washington's Brutus] played my father. The whole family's on Broadway now."

Although it's not exactly "a date play," Mayor Mike Bloomberg and his main squeeze, Diane Taylor, led the celebs list on opening night. Also attending: Jessye Norman, Edmund White, Anna Deveare Smith, Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman.

Leading the Friends of Albee brigade were the original Nick and the matinee Martha: George Grizzard and Stritch, who co-starred in the 1996 revival of Albee's A Delicate Balance (he got the Tony, and she got nominated). Then there was Marian Seldes, who got a Tony for his first Pulitzer Prize winner (1967's A Delicate Balance) and starred in his third (1991's Three Tall Women). Maureen Anderman, from his second (1975's Seascape), came representing the 1976 revival of Virginia Woolf. The youngest Albee-ite in attendance was Kathleen Early, from 1997's The Play About the Baby.

Grizzard's claim-to-fame, being a part of this historic first production along with Arthur Hill, Uta Hagen and Melinda Dillon in the Tony-winning original, didn't last long as he remembers. "I only stayed the first three months, and I did the recording," he said. "I had already been asked to open the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis playing Hamlet so I left after three months. The marvelous part was that we didn't have to do matinees. There was another whole company who would cover for us and do the matinees. That was nice!"

Stritch, who shredded Sheppard Strudwick on matinee days in the original production, later famously laid siege to the role in London—so she was coming from a knowing place when, at the second intermission, she praised this revival. "Kathleen Turner is fantastic!" she trilled in her lower-register fashion. "And this is a brilliant production—just brilliant."

Anderman, the Broadway Honey of 1978, is married to Frank Converse, who did George to Elizabeth Ashley's Martha in Florida. Two of her co-stars in the last Broadway revival of Virginia Woolf 25 years ago have passed on—Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Kelton—"but I did see Ben Gazzara two weeks ago up in Stamford doing his one-man show on Yogi Berra. I'm thrilled to be here tonight, representing that cast."

Gordon Clapp, in rehearsal for the second Broadway coming of Glengarry Glen Ross (along with Frederick Weller, also on hand), caught the opening with an actor pal, Jack McGee, who plays Dennis Leary's boss in "Rescue Me," the firefighter series on television. McGee said he had never seen Virginia Woolf before, but Clapp recalled Uta Hagen's last performance of it in a one-night-only benefit reading at the Majestic with Jonathan Pryce, Mia Farrow and Peter Gallagher.

The after-party was held at a brand-new restaurant with a slightly art-deco mezzanine and lots and lots of leather banquets, called Bond 45 after the gone-but-not-forgotten clothing store that was such a Times Square fixture. It was pretty cramped quarters for all the commotional interviewing that usually accompanies the opening of a Broadway show.

Gregory Jbara from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels made the scene, as did Fuddy Meers's Marylouise Burke. "Nothing right now," she said, "but I have a movie coming up at the beginning of May, called Things That Hang From Trees, from the novella of the same name. It's shooting in St. Augustine, FL. I play a lighthousekeeper." She's still basking in the recent Oscar glory of Sideways but she wants to get back to theatre. "I'm hankering." Next up for Charles Busch: "On Monday, after 20 years, my Vampire Lesbians of Sodom finally makes it to Broadway. I shall play a young girl of 14 again." The one-night-only Actors Fund benefit will co-star Julie Halston and Ruth Williamson, feature Andy Halliday and Theresa Aceves from the original cast and cameo guest shots by Phyllis Newman, Mario Cantone and Bruce Vilanch. "That's just the second act," said Busch. "The first act has songs from Rebecca Luker, Brent Barrett and Sutton Foster.

"It'll be at the Music Box. Drag is already there. Dame Edna is being gracious enough to let us use her set. Whether she'll let us use her dressing room is another question. When I did Nothin' Like a Dame last week, Gary Beach was sweet enough to let me use his dressing room—and his earrings. I'd forgotten mine, dragging things from place to place."

The four stars and their director, England's Anthony Page who was represented on Broadway last season with Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, made wildly cheered arrivals at the restaurant and gamely descended into crowded little pockets of Q&A intensity.

"I love the humor of the play," admitted Page, who certainly mined a mother lode of it during the play. "Edward's like a very black Noel Coward. I like to bring that out in his plays. I did The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? in the West End. Also, I did Marriage Play."

Lindsey McKinley, wife of The New York Times's Jesse McKinley, was drawing compliments right and left for her performance of Honey. She just happens to resemble the redheaded Enos. "We were laughing in the middle of the play that I looked like her," she said.

Enos and Harbour met understudying the young lovers in Lincoln Center's The Time of the Cuckoo and made their Broadway debuts together in The Invention of Love. "For two years, we were following each other around," she said, admitted the history was helpful.

La Turner, a charismatic center of commotion wherever she moved in the restaurant, skipped the Saturday night performance so she would be relatively rested for the opening. "I had bronchitis," she said, "but I'm very well now, thank you." She smiled bravely and wanly, looking to all the world like she'd just gone through three hours of Virginia Woolf.

The cast gives their opening night curtain call
The cast gives their opening night curtain call Photo by Aubrey Reuben
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