It seemed a delicious idea, seeing Edward Albee's Tony award-winning play, Talking Back at Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf about George and Martha, a university couple whose marriage unravels over cocktails with a younger couple one night -- with an audience of couples counselors. This riveting revival, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production at the Booth Theater for the play's 50th anniversary, is however, so disarming that even a group of trained professionals, seemed flummoxed by the brilliant banter and blatant betrayal, caustic jabs and casual sex. Questions to the actors following Thursday night's performance were about whether or not they take the emotion home with them. Answer: a complicated yes, as you would imagine. From the first "What a dump!" till dawn, this scathing examination of what is real, what imagined, what illusions keep us afloat, hits home. There's not a more harrowing spectacle of marital evisceration on Broadway.
The superb ensemble, led by August: Osage County playwright Tracy Letts and Amy Morton, with Carrie Coon and Madison Dirks as the guests who witness George and Martha's dissembling, and then do a bit of their own, under the fine direction of Pam MacKinnon, has you in its grip. Todd Rosenthal's set, aclutter with piles of books, is homey. This classic's influence on newer drama also resonates, especially Yasmina Reza's 2009 God of Carnage with two couples trapped in the arena of a living room. One wife famously vomits. It's perhaps a measure of time passing: in the Albee, she has the decency to do so off stage.
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