Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 21, 2009

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"

Exit 7 Players, Ludlow MA
through February 28, 2009
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

This outstanding production of "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf" is a triumph worthy of an Off Broadway venue. Under the sensitive, vigorous direction of Marck Morrison, playwright Edward Albee’s masterpiece is as fresh and cogent today as when its debut rocked Broadway in 1962. Four accomplished actors give stellar performances – Claire Bertrand (Martha), Bob Laviolette (George), Jami Byrne Wilson (Honey), and Brian Dickey (Nick). There is not one false note during the play’s three hours. From the blaring opening scene through the final heart-wrenching moments, Ludlow’s Exit 7 Players present riveting first-rate theater.

A bare-bones, no-meat synopsis of the play: Martha and George are serious swillers of booze who have honed verbal abuse to an outrageous art form. After they arrive home from a faculty gathering, Martha informs George that she has invited a young teacher, Nick, and his wife, Honey, to stop by for a drink. Throughout the night into the dawn, emotional mayhem prevails. Scabrous exchanges substitute for polite conversation. Terrible psychological scars are semi-exposed that beg the question: truth or illusion? Regardless, there is "blood under the bridge."

Each actor skillfully balances the character’s facade with its underlying reality. George and Martha’s symbiotic relationship hovers at a parasitic level; both Laviolette and Bertrand through subtle body language convey within their mutual contempt a complicated, revengeful respect. Nick, the supposedly fair-haired young man is exposed as being as unscrupulous as his hosts. His fragile wife Honey’s slow motion progression from tipsy into alcoholic stupor is pantomimed virtuosity. Throughout all three acts, Morrison’s directorial skills have become the actors’ own. His respect for the audience’s need to absorb their insight into Martha and George’s convoluted natures is the gift of decompression – a protracted final scene of George putting the house to bed before he cradles Martha, his spent other.

Productions of this caliber demonstrate that the bottom line difference between a quality community theater and a regional or NYC venue is money: the pros are salaried, whereas the "amateurs" are dedicated volunteers. Those who lump all community theater into a slapdash hobby category will have their parochial opinions torpedoed by Exit 7's "...Virginia Woolf."

Be advised: for mature audiences only.