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Leads shine on 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf'

By Sam Post
For the Salisbury Post
Have you ever gone to a local theater to be a good sport, support the local arts scene and have a fun evening out?
If that’s your bag, then you don’t need to see St. Thomas Players’ production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at the Looking Glass Artist Collective.
This thing is the real deal.
Edward Albee’s play is a big play, one of the more important works of the past century, because it transcends the common nastiness of the games families play. Those nasty games — the stuff of everyday drama — are available in ordinary plays and movies. Here we get an eyeful of the underbelly of human conflict — why we have it, what it does, how it grows, and where it goes. Like war itself, Albee creates a world in which conflict feeds upon itself and then looks ridiculous in retrospect.
George and Martha — and Nick and Honey — play a game of domination. What are their tools? Position, history, sex, torture, alcohol, games, anger, abuse — just to name a few.
What’s striking, throughout, is how powerless the individual becomes in the thick of it. If only somebody could step out and bring a little wisdom to bear. That’s what’s so frustrating about the history of the world and life on this planet right now. When everybody is playing for keeps and nobody’s leading for peace, human beings lose their humanity.
In 1962, when Edward Albee premiered “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on Broadway, the modern use of the term “empowerment” did not exist. it would be nice to think that such a play would have become irrelevant by now. But look around. That’s obviously not the case. We live in a changing world, but the world has not changed. George and Martha are alive and well.
The force of Bob Paolino’s performance here is pretty amazing. George is snide, and Paolino chooses to make him a big, gutsy, singsong Snide that captures the room and everybody in it. As Martha says, he “keeps playing the game,” while she keeps changing the rules. From George’s chaos and pain, there’s a tough determination there that creates energy. Paolino generates that energy and allows it to emerge as something more than surviving the game. He creates George’s passion for victory.
If you want to see Mary Ann McCubbin after the show and congratulate her on a superb performance, you may be a little scared. Given the task of being, as George says, “a devil with language,” McCubbin’s Martha has a fierceness and intensity that is bigger than her red hair — and her hair is really big. Big enough to conceal the horns underneath.
Nothing breaks down. There’s no hesitation. Jonathan Furr, as Nick, and Dana Neelis-Vanhoy as Honey — the not-so-innocent innocents caught in the crossfire — deliver the characters they are, with the welcome authenticity this play deserves and requires.
Director Missy Barnes has obviously punished this cast into submission, creating a rhythm that propels relentlessly, getting a perfectly modulated world of emotion out of these four, excellent actors. They may have missed a line or two during dress. They may have hesitated a time or two. But I didn’t notice. It looked to me like they didn’t miss a beat.
When the house is full — as it certainly will be when word spreads — there may be some laughter, both real and nervous. There is humor in the play. But watching a dress rehearsal with only a few other people is sort of like watching a movie at home. I barely laughed at all, choosing instead to be mesmerized by a production that was paced and magnetic — and for this I was pleasantly rewarded, moment after moment, by a gift most ably given: the delightful precision of the play’s language.
Albee is the American master of absurdity, but absurd doesn’t work if we’re aware that it’s absurd. It’s got to be done so well that we don’t notice. That’s the danger. The risk of becoming tedious is high. It’s a credit to this fine ensemble and Missy Barnes that this comes off about as real as it gets. Absurdity never enters the picture. I almost forgot it was a play.
If you go, be careful not to go to Catawba out of habit, where St. Thomas puts on shows in the summer. That’s what I did. I got there early, but I had walked. That made for quite a rush to walk back home and drive to The Looking Glass Artist Collective on Lee Street before the show started. The show was such a treat that I forgot about that mishap in the first five seconds.
St. Thomas Players, the drama troupe of Center for Faith & the Arts, has made some bold choices and taken some big risks, and it’s paying off. Have people outside of Salisbury heard? I don’t know, but they need to. In the 15 years since the company’s debut with Satre’s “No Exit,” done in a church basement — a hammering evening of compressed ideas and exciting possibility — this group has evolved into a remarkable theater company for a town this size.
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” continues tonight and Saturday and April 13-16. Show Begins at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets available at The Literary Bookpost, 110 S. Main St. For more information call 704-647-0999.

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