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Review: 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' at NoHo Arts Center

January 29, 2009 |  2:13 pm

Waovw_photo_6In the nearly 50 years since "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" first hit the American theater, many things have changed, though alcohol-fueled spousal mayhem may not be among them. So goes the resolute Blue Zone Productions revival of Edward Albee's dark comic marital smackdown.

Blue Zone's artistic objective -- to de-marginalize performers with disabilities -- is admirable. It brings occasional jolts of acrid insight to this Tony-winning groundbreaker. History professor George (Jack Patterson) and boss' daughter Martha (Ann Colby Stocking) still have at each other and unwitting guests Nick (Paul Haitkin) and Honey (Teal Sherer), during a long night's journey into day.

Certainly, the actors are intense and accomplished under Sara Botsford's direction. Patterson, who assumed George after "C.S.I." regular Robert David Hall withdrew, begins tentatively but gains in authority with each monologue, and Stocking lands Martha's braying emotional zigzags with crack timing. Sherer finds extra inebriated humor in dim-bulb Honey. Haitkin, the sole non-disabled performer, gives climber Nick more edge than usual.

That said, the approach also creates contradictions. Staging Albee's blend of naturalism and mega-theatricality with the seductions and assaults circumscribed by artist's physical realities taxes tempos and suspended disbelief. Whenever the situation confronts the text -- Honey's interpretive dance, for example -- a striking overview seems possible, but its possibilities aren't fully explored.

Moreover, Albee's revised Act 2, which cuts Honey's re-entrance to give George's climactic Act 3 ploy a melodramatic rather than enigmatic lead-in, adds little apart from shaving a few minutes off the running time.

There is much to value in this "Virginia Woolf," which is always respectable and at times galvanic. There is, however, not much to be afraid of, in part because the play doesn't shock as it once did. It finally seems more valiant showcase display than fully realized production.

--David C. Nichols

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 1. $20. (323) 960-7711. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Caption: From left, Ann Colby Stocking, Jack Patterson, Paul Haitkin, Teal Sherer in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Credit: Christopher Brown