Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Not Broadway. Albee Revival Opens on March 20

News   Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Not Broadway. Albee Revival Opens on March 20
Three-plus hours of cat-and-mouse games, catty remarks, tomcatting and cat's paws will be the catnip for the opening-night audience for the new Broadway production of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

David Harbour and Kathleen Turner in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
David Harbour and Kathleen Turner in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo by Joan Marcus

Anthony Page directs a cast featuring Kathleen Turner as Martha, Bill Irwin as George, David Harbour as Nick and Mireille Enos as Honey. Albee's most famous play concluded a three-week stay at Boston's Wilbur Theatre on March 6. Previews began at the Longacre on March 12.

In the play, new professor Nick and his innocent wife Honey get more than they bargained for when they are invited over for a night of drinking, debauchery and digs at the home of seemingly meek fellow academic George and his husband-hating, self-loathing, guest baiting wife Martha.

John Lee Beatty designed the set. Also part of the design team are costume designer Jane Greenwood, lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski and sound designer Mark Bennett.

Woolf is being produced by Elizabeth Ireland McCann, Daryl Roth, Scott Rudin, Terry Allen Kramer, Roger Berlind and James L. Nederlander.

The production will be the first Broadway revival of the landmark drama since 1976. That mounting, directed by the playwright, ran 117 performances. The lengthy, high-voltage play hit Broadway like a thunderbolt in 1962, shocking and electrifying audiences and critics with its volatile language and corrosive portrayal of a hostile American marriage. Previously known for a few admired Off-Broadway one-acts, Albee overnight became the country's most famous and lionized young playwright. The cast included Uta Hagen as Martha (in a career-capping performance), Arthur Hill as George, George Grizzard as Nick and Melinda Dillon as Honey. Alan Schneider directed. (View the original 1962 playbill in the Playbill Archives feature.)

The show won the Tony and the New York Drama Critics Circle awards for Best Play. Hagen, Hill and Schneider also won Tonys for their work.

It was the odds-on favorite to capture the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Indeed, jurors John Mason Brown and John Gassner recommended it for the prize, but the decision was overruled by Columbia University's advisory board. One member of the board called it "a filthy play." The move led to the resignation of Brown and Gassner. Most observers believe that when Columbia awarded Albee's A Delicate Balance the Pulitzer in 1967, it was making up for the gaffe it made concerning Woolf.

"I read this play in college when I was 20," Turner told Playbill.com at a recent press event, "and I said, 'When I'm 50, I'll play Martha.' And in fact, the week I turned 50, they said yes, you can play it. So I have assiduously avoided seeing any other performance." Turner's past Broadway credits include Indiscretions and the box-office hit The Graduate.

Turner and Irwin first played the parts together in a private reading arranged by Albee. Anthony Page remembered the drama, and the playwright, coming to life that night. "Edward's nostrils started to flare like a horse," said Page.

The dramatist had been impressed with Irwin's performance in The Goat on Broadway, and had been impressed with his work in Beckett (Albee's favorite playwright). As for Turner: "This one had played Tallulah Bankhead," he said, referring to the solo show Tallulah in which Turner had toured during 2000 and 2001. "I thought if you can play someone who's larger than life like Tallulah, you can play Martha. I felt I was in very good hands."

Irwin, who has been praised for his work as a silent clown, is aware that his being cast as George caught some observers off guard. "I like to think I'm the right guy for the role, though also I imagine I'm a surprising choice."

Harbour and Enos appeared in The Invention of Love together.

Other actresses who played Martha during the original Broadway run included Elaine Stritch, Mercedes McCambridge, Nancy Kelly and Haila Stoddard. Donald David, Henderson Forsythe and Sheppard Strudwick all played George. Eileen Fulton and Rochelle Oliver filled in as Honey, and Ben Piazza replaced Grizzard as Nick.

Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin in <i>Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?</i>
Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo by Joan Marcus
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