"Satire is what closes on Saturday night," the saying goes, but nobody ever tells you what opens on Saturday night — probably because it's just not done, but it did happen Oct. 13 when Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? turned 50 and marked the occasion with a sterling revival by an ace quartet from the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
George & Martha & Nick & Honey — all, by this point, Veterans of Domestic Wars — blew in from The Windy City in the forms of Tracy Letts, Amy Morton, Madison Dirks and Carrie Coon, booze-fueled and truth-telling all over the Booth Theatre.
The Booth, freshly refurbished with wood-panel walls, turns out by happy accident to be the perfect place for this play because George and Martha's lived-in, book-lined library on stage (designed by Todd Rosenthal) blends effortlessly into the theatre itself, bringing the audience in for an even more intimate close-up of marital combat.
"When we got in to see it after the renovation, it was, like, 'Whoa! This is more than perfect,'" exclaimed Pam MacKinnon, who refereed — er, directed — the piece. "I was so excited to book the Booth anyway because of its intimacy and the rake of the audience. The audience is tipped in, which is really rare for a Broadway house.
MacKinnon takes this dizzying laugh-and-cry roller-coaster ride at about 90 mph — from Martha's snarling "Jesus H. Christ!" to her tender "I am, George, I am" (in response to the title question) — and, when the three-act, three-hour-and-five-minute main-event came to final, emphatic halt, Edward Albee stepped unsteadily forth to take a bow — cane in hand, escorted by MacKinnon — looking all of his 84 years but properly appreciated. He turned first to the gang of four who did such justice to his words and applauded them, then to the audience and applauded us for our great good taste. Needless to add, it made a poignant, roof-lifting spectacle.
Which was not necessarily a good thing for the print press working the party on a catch-as-catch-can basis, plowing through a choppy, sloshy sea of celebrities and/or humanity to get to the principal players of the evening. Fortunately, there were only four to be had, and only one of them had ever been on Broadway before.
The vet, Morton, bowed here as the dreaded Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which got the 2001 Tony for Best Revival, and returned six years later as the Tony-nominated first-born in an Oklahoma house of hate in August: Osage County, which got the 2007 Tony for Best Play (both productions were Steppenwolf shows).
Letts' Broadway debut wears an asterisk: only as an actor. For his previous visit here — as the author of August: Osage County — he won the Tony and the Pulitzer.
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