Ever have that dream where you’re suddenly in the middle of a play, but it’s in someone’s living room instead of on a stage and the actors are inches away from you? And then you realize it’s not a dream; you’re just watching Cup-a-Jo Productions’ version of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Never had that experience? Just me? Oh. Well, you’re in luck, because for the next two weekends you’ll be able to live the dream and see a powerful piece of theater while you’re at it.
If you’re not familiar with the play, it’s entirely set in a living room and there are only four characters. Cup-a-Jo decided to make the play-viewing experience as real as possible. Or surreal, in some ways. Their version is performed in a living room instead of on a stage. A real, authentic living room, as in someone lives in this house and now you are there watching actors sit on their furniture. It fits the play perfectly, and aside from some initial awkward feelings, I found that it truly benefited the performance.
I’ve seen many shows with box seating, some extremely small and intimate, but they’ve always been on a stage somewhere. For this show, there is no “set” because the set is real. Where I’d spend a good deal of time in a different play looking around at the scenery and set pieces, here it was a familiar setting. I got to spend those moments watching the actors instead. My attention was focused on the players, which could have been a bad thing if they hadn’t performed so wonderfully.
All four actors are significantly practiced thespians. Their experience must have been a delight to director Everett Lowe. Because the whole show is set in one room with the same pieces of furniture, the movement he gave the characters becomes so much more important. Nothing feels forced, and the characters’ activity is natural. The discomfort between them is intentional and expertly done.
The most awkward character, Honey, is brought to life by Hilary Caldwell. You start to feel sympathetic for Honey before she even appears onstage, with the two main characters talking about her before she arrives. Caldwell plays up the shy and sweet side of Honey, who really just wants to have a fun night out. Her physical acting is spot on, becoming less stiff and more fluid the more she drinks. And although everyone is an emotional wreck by the end, Caldwell siphons pity from the audience with her facial expressions and reminders that Honey never asked for any of this.
Honey’s husband, Nick, is more of a straight man. Tom Kolos is excellent in giving Nick an even yet firm personality. You could almost be fooled into thinking he isn’t very emotional, until he hits a breaking point. Both Nick and Honey are broken down to places of disbelief throughout their evening. Kolos makes his character’s suffering stand out by giving him such control the rest of the time. His reaction to the other three characters is distinct and varied, and while you do feel bad for him, you don’t feel that bad for him.
Cut to Brett Sullivan Santry, who absolutely shines as George, the manipulative professor and husband. It’s often hard to tell what George is up to, but it’s not hard to be captivated by Santry’s flow and commitment to the character. Sitting so close up to the show, it’s easy to notice all the details of fighting, prop handling, facial responses, etc. Santry excels at all of it. You find yourself at war internally over George: hating him and pitying him, finding him disgusting and being impressed by him. Albee wrote George to demand the attention of the other characters, and Santry demands the attention of the audience.
But for me, the most profound performance was that of Joanna Lowe as Martha, George’s bitter and brutal wife. The mind games played between George and Martha are nearly scandalous to watch. Lowe acts in waves, throwing out humor, lust, deception, nostalgia, rage, apathy, and grief at any given moment. She’s able to transform sentiments like flipping a light switch. Martha is a woman who could take on the world, and a woman who has been utterly destroyed. I don’t know how Lowe is able to perform like this every night and not be completely exhausted.
All four actors have a palpable bond with their characters, and watching this show will give you feelings. Which is exactly why you should go see it. It’s long, each of the three acts taking roughly an hour, but refreshments are provided before the show and during intermissions. Because it’s in a private residence, you’ll have to make your reservation before you’re given the address. But I can promise you, this is not your average night at the theater.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? runs weekends through March 25. For ticket reservations or more information click here for their Facebook page or email email@example.com.
Photos courtesty of Ken Kerr.