Chicago Theatre Review
Get the Guests
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Redtwist Theatre
Loud, unrestrained laughter pierces the quiet exterior of the modest New England home of George, an associatehistory professor, and his intoxicated wife, Martha. It’s very late Saturday night and the middle aged couple are returning home from a party for new faculty, given by the president of the college, who just happens to be Martha’s father. But instead of winding down for the night, Martha informs George that another party is about to commence. She’s invited a young, new instructor and his mousy wife over for a nightcap. George is appalled that he’s being forced to play host at this late hour, but he soon realizes that lying ahead will be a night of warfare and revelations.
As the liquor flows, George and Martha enjoy some of their special brand of Fun and Games, which includes Get the Guests, with Nick and his wife Honey, Peel the Label, Hump the Hostess and, finally, Bringing Up Baby. Throughout the long night, fantasies are played out, truths are revealed and stories are shared that may or may not be true. By the end of the play, by dawn’s early light, all four have been emotionally garroted, vivisected and totally destroyed. No one, including the audience, will ever be the same again.
Jason Gerace’s extraordinary production plops audiences smack dab in the middle of George and Martha’s living room (a terrific set design by Eric Broadwater), seating them around the perimeter of the space. It’s almost as if the theatergoer is a fly on the wall, observing all the carnage up close and personal. Gerace has cast four remarkable, exquisite actors who deliver the most brutally honest performances imaginable. Seated inches away from the actors, they have no means of escape and no place to hide. Every tear and drop of sweat is visible, along with the occasional humor and all the unbearable terror and pain. George and Martha’s marriage can be seen as many things, but safe and conventional aren’t among them. This couple may be mentally ill, or they may have just devised their own special way of getting through the years together, alternating between truth and illusion. In Mr. Gerace’s skilled hands, this production is constantly in motion, ever rising and falling, like the ocean’s waves. It’s a production deserving of every ovation it receives.
The quartet of brilliant actors are all exceptional. Jacqueline Grandt guzzles her booze like there’s no tomorrow, all the while firing sharp insults and ridicule at everyone, especially her husband. As the hours pass and inhibitions melt away, Ms. Grandt changes both her clothes and her tactics, delivering double entendres meant to seduce her handsome guest. During the evening, she accidentally lets slip a certain piece of private information that causes all hell to break loose. War is declared and George, played to perfection by Brian Parry, goes in for the kill. Mr. Parry, all professorial and well-spoken, flip-flops between subtle affronts and direct attacks. This actor’s sheer mastery of monumental amounts of dialogue is, alone, awe-inspiring. That he delivers it so well is the olive in the martini.
Nick, the handsome young new biology professor, as played by Stephen Cefalu, Jr., is at first an amiable fellow. As the booze flows and George and Martha appear to be in the middle of some kind of argument, he clearly shows discomfort and irritation with this late night situation. But as the party progresses, alcohol wears away his inhibitions and Nick unwittingly plays into Martha’s plan. Mr. Cefalu’s Nick imbibes so much liquor as to hamper his ability to bed Martha. It also prompts him to share personal information that will eventually be used against him. Elizabeth Argus is triumphant as Honey, a frail little thing with a huge smile. She gives in to the enticement of brandy, while reacting in revulsion to the violence and humiliation around her. As Ms. Argus’ shyness begins to melt away Honey’s confidence builds. Eventually, lost in an alcoholic haze, the young lady is hurling her own scorn at everyone. Finally she comes to understand what’s happening around her. It isn’t pretty. Every one of these actors totally and honestly inhabits his or her character, and there’s never an artificial or insincere moment during the almost three-hour production.
This is a remarkably intimate production, full of strong performances and sharp observations and insight. Edward Albee’s 1962 Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning drama is every bit as potent and soul-shattering as it was when first performed. Jason Gerace’s production is made all the more riveting because the audience is so close to the action, and theatergoers will leave this play feeling as if they were among George and Martha’s guests.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented September 9-October 11 by Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-728-7529 or by going to www.redtwist.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.