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Review: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Starring Zachary Quinto and Calista Flockhart, Packs a Wallop

A new, highly charged production is currently running in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse.

Calista Flockhart and Zachary Quinto in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Geffen Playhouse
(© Jeff Loach)

Edward Albee's classic Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? exposes the crud hidden behind the closed doors of American households between Eisenhower's cheery post-war tranquility and John F. Kennedy's focus-on-the-future optimism. No couple performs an S&M act, even without whips and chains, as depraved as George and Martha. Reveling in the play's bitterness and booze, Zachary Quinto and Calista Flockhart make a cruel twosome in this harrowing and darkly hilarious production at the Geffen Playhouse.

At a small New England college, associate professor George (Quinto) and his wife, Martha (Flockhart), push each other's buttons, leaving raw marks, while inviting unsuspecting victims to their lair. Nick (Graham Phillips), the school's new biology teacher, and his mousy wife, Honey (Aimee Carrero), are unarmed and unprepared as their hosts attack each other — and them --with equal venom, playing games like "Humiliate the Host" and "Hump the Hostess." Even a cocky young stud like Nick is impotent against the master gameplayers when they turn their attentions to "Get the Guests."

Albee's 60-year-old play remains vital and absorbing. The characters' complexities never fail to shock audiences, nor does his candid dialogue. The language is precise. For a three-hour-plus evening, not one speech is wasted or superfluous.

Director Gordon Greenberg artfully maintains the tension throughout and keeps his talented cast focused. Flockhart and Quinto play off each other like they've been wounding one another every night for decades. They anticipate each other's barbs and allow the pain to sink in before volleying back. Quinto barely looks anyone in the face. It's like he's seeing double and focuses on the mirage.

Flockhart, with her frosted bouffant hair and cocktail dress, embodies a sloshed White House first lady. Phillips and Carrero allow their calm, prim facades to crash to the ground throughout the evening, revealing insecurities, loneliness, and terror. Carrero is pathetically hysterical as she kills off brandy after brandy and slips into an inane interpretive dance.

Lindsay Jones's musical score is '60s mod mixed with a bit of Grand Guignol. Wilson Chin's living room set is filled with harsh vertical lines – window panes, banister slats, upright books, fireplace pokers—evoking the bars of the asylum in which George and Martha have imprisoned each other. Alejo Vietti's costumes visually set up the characters perfectly while also concealing their raw true selves. George's slovenly clothes with baggy tan pants and a crooked tie makes him seem like a cuckold. Martha, with her cocktail dress way too young a style, and hot pants and bustier, shows a woman on the prowl. Nick's cool blue suit gives the impression of an unflappable leader, while Honey looks ready to cheerily sell Mary Kay cosmetics.

Albee titled the final act "The Exorcism", and no words could more clearly warn what eventually detonates from the two stars. It provides a catharsis after a night of revelations, and it is a testament to the caliber of Geffen's extraordinary cast speaking Edward Albee's legendary words.