From the freezing cold night, the audience entered the Drama Barn, and with a general feeling of excitement and anticipation we sat down to enjoy the Dramasoc’s first night performance of Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Viginia Woolf’. This mammoth two and a half hour performance was an emotional rollercoaster from the start, and an ultimate success, the audience leaving the Drama Barn feeling immensely satisfied. And cold. Very cold.
One night, following a faculty party at a university in Connecticut, associate history professor George (Jamie Oliver) and his wife Martha (Ali Skamangas) invite a young couple, fellow teacher Nick (Rory Hern) and his wife Honey (Sophie Mann), to their house for a couple of drinks. As the drinking continues long into the night, revelations begin to surface, and the true animosity, violence and exuberance of the characters are brought to light. First performed in 1962 and snubbed from a Pulitzer Prize due to its provocative and controversial content, ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ shocks, frightens and humours the audience with its absurdity.
Director Joe Lichenstein and producer Iseult Smith created a visually captivating performance. The intimate Drama Barn setting was converted into the 1960s style living room of George and Martha, the bland, pastel colouring perfectly balancing their tumultuous and fiery performances. The well rehearsed movement of the actors had the audience inches away from the action, immersing us in the drama and emotion of the scenes, and allowing a constant pace and flow to be maintained throughout the length of the performace.
Ali Skamangas’ portrayal of Martha was simply exquisite. Maturity and sensuality seeped from every aspect of her performance, her physicality embodying a woman scarred by life and age. The wit and flamboyance with which she delivered her complex lines was startling and extremely impressive, and her energy and dynamism lifted the play even in its darkest or flattest of moments. This performance was both matched and complimented by Jamie Oliver, who’s George provided a centre and gravitas to the endless twists and turns of the plot. His vast range in dramatic tone created superb moments of both climax and subtlety, complimented by his chemistry with Skamangas.
It was truly astonishing the level of darkness that was reached by the characters. Reduced to their most vile and devastating forms, the cast worked hard at reaching that level of tension and drama, succeeding greatly in the mounting and releasing of tension. This was helped by moments of pure hilarity, funny quips and one-liners flawlessly delivered which eased the seriousness of the piece, and lulled the audience into a false sense of comedic security.
The powerhouse performances given by Oliver and Skamangas were admirably supported by Sophie Mann and Rory Hern as the young, seemingly naive couple Honey and Nick. The two women were polar opposite in their characters and performances, creating a prominent age difference between the two of them, and Mann’s Honey was often the source of comic relief throughout the play. However, they are not characters to be taken lightly, with Mann’s vulnerability piercing the hearts of the audience, and Hern’s obvious moral struggle creating a flawless foursome of a cast.
The task undertaken by Joe Lichenstein in directing this play was a huge one. The task of the cast to reach such levels of intensity and depth was perhaps even greater. Yet both tasks were achieved with seamlessness and courage, resulting in a really surprisingly excellent production. A lot of people should be proud of this performance. If you haven’t got tickets for Saturday or Sunday’s performances I advise you to buy them now! And my final piece of advice? Wear a coat. A really thick, warm coat.