“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is a pun on the children’s song “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” from Disney’s Three Little Pigs. It’s a fitting title for Edward Albee’s play in which two married couples sink into a drunken games of verbal abuse in an attempt to ‘blow each other’s houses down’. Barry Hill’s direction is purposeful and sharp: the tight ensemble delicately examines the depths of the characters, the complexity of their relationships, and the trip-wires of their cruel and savage games.
The staging limitations of the Burnside Ballroom works in favour of this production. The unadorned grey walls and the uncluttered living room set with a few pieces of mismatched furniture reflect the empty mundaneness of the characters’ relationships which differ from the illusions they hide behind. George and Martha’s loveless and childless marriage painfully contradicts the flimsy veneer they uphold. Brant Eustice and Tracey Walker are compelling in their portrayal of this tempestuous couple. Eustice’s unnerving control over the climactic moments allows his rage to simmer and intensify creating an atmosphere of expectation that finally and devastatingly ‘snaps!’ Walker is well cast as his wife who takes as much joy in taunting George as she does in playing the wounded victim when the game turns on her. Eustice and Walker are interchangeably intense, dominating, and vulnerable as they seamlessly alternate between being ‘Big Bad Wolves’ and ‘houses of straw’.
The couple’s guests, Nick (Alan Fitzpatrick) and Hony (Tallora DiGirolami) initially provide the much-needed comic relief by cutting through the tension and then, unintentionally, adding to it when the games are eventually played on them. Fitzpatrick’s over-eager and charming façade as a new young professor is stripped back to suggest a more sinister and opportunistic inner self, while DiGirolami’s youthful bright-eyed and giggly Hony shows perfect comic timing, naivety, and crashing reality when her own secrets are exposed.
Hill’s “Woolf” is a terrifyingly funny and scarily honest production for newly revived Burnside Players. Be afraid: Burnside’s back!