This revival of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is not a production but a deconstruction. Under Anthony Page’s manic direction, the most vulgar aspects of a very effective play are heavily underscored, stomped into the ground or into the howling, guffawing, applauding, squealing groundlings. Crass exaggeration proliferates, and save for John Lee Beatty’s set, there’s nothing to cheer about. Kathleen Turner’s Martha is a new addition to the bestiary, a braying mantis. She has a voice like a baritone sax issuing from an oil drum, and hams even with her silences. Your standard-issue college president’s daughter can only aspire to being such a foulmouthed fishwife, and no younger history teacher, however hell-bent on climbing the academic ladder, would have married this anti-sexual, castrating slattern.
Well, yes, one might have: the sorry specimen of a man portrayed by Bill Irwin. This George, barely even a wimp, is a mewling, posturing, frog-face-pulling, spineless hand puppet, with the gestures and grimaces of a used-up mime, hardly an actor. The Honey of Mireille Enos might have been all right had not the director goosed her into excess. Only the Nick of David Harbour, an excellent actor, manages to be adequate, a heroic achievement.
The greatest damage is done to the play: The cleverly bitchy humor becomes a wallow in unmitigated nastiness, and the preposterous, sentimental ending an unearned plea for sympathy for characters previously made loathsome, which spells artistic dishonesty. It does, however, elicit boundless admiration for Alan Schneider’s direction of the original production. How many more overrated British directors are we going to import to become serial killers of American theater?