‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’
Through Feb. 19
511 10th St., N.W.
‘Baby Screams Miracle’
Through Feb. 26
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
641 D St., N.W.
Five months after Edward Albee’s death, Ford’s Theatre is presenting the gay playwright’s masterpiece “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Though slated to go up long before his passing, the production serves as a glowing tribute to the man and his immense talent.
Set in a small New England college town, the action unfolds throughout a booze-fueled, after hours party. Middle-aged hosts Martha (Holly Twyford) and George (Gregory Linington), a professor in the history department, entertain a young biology professor Nick (a blond Danny Gavigan) and his wife Honey (Maggie Wilder) with too many drinks, a raging display of outsized marital discord and unsettling party games.
The play’s title is the punchline from a joke told earlier in the evening at a faculty gathering held at Martha’s father’s house. He’s president of the college. George, as Martha constantly reminds him and anyone within ear shot, was once a hopeful to take over daddy’s position but has subsequently proved a disappointment. George returns the favor by broadcasting that Martha is his senior by six years and a nymphomaniac.Their searing repartee startles their young guests but, of course, delights the audience.
Led by director Aaron Posner, the cast delivers top-notch performances. Livingston’s George is front and center in guiding the night’s dissipated and sometimes sadistic revelries. As sexy Nick, Gavigan nails the proud, but eager-to-please, striver. And Wilder’s mousey-but-determined Honey supplies comic relief. Out actor Twyford’s Martha isn’t a monster. While I’ve seen more shrewish, tougher, louder and sexier Marthas, hers is the most human. And when she reveals the essence of her relationship with George, it’s a heartrending moment.
The production’s two-person scenes are the best. Tension is sometimes lacking when all four actors are on stage. And while I might like to have seen this production in a more intimate setting, it’s an especially memorable take on Albee’s most-produced play.
But the true star of any Albee work is the playwright’s brilliant dialogue (some of which is racier than what’s usually found at Ford’s). At the end of three hours interrupted by two short intermissions, you remain wanting to hear more.
Not far away at Woolly Mammoth, you’ll find an entirely different brand of couple. In playwright Clare Barron’s mysterious “Baby Screams Miracle,” Carol (Kate Eastwood Norris), who’s pregnant, and her well-meaning, but accident-prone husband Gabe (Cody Nickell) are born-gain Christians striving to open lines of communication and deepen mutual respect through prayer.
Set in the couple’s rural home they share with a painfully shy young daughter Kayden (the excellent Mia Rilette) and Carol’s nurturing mother Barbara (Sarah Marshall), the story takes place throughout a verily apocalyptic storm involving car wrecks, injuries and hurricane-strength winds. Joining them is Carol and Gabe’s estranged older daughter Cynthia (Caroline Dubberly), who’s pregnant and has suffered setbacks since she last visited.
During the storm, faith and family are brought into keen focus. Carol and Gabe invite Cynthia to accept Jesus. While momentarily reluctant, she gamely goes along with the plan and is soon praying aloud on her uncomfortable relationship with her parents. Within the swirling and terrifying storm, the family is somehow brought closer together.
Real-life couple Norris and Nickell brings charm and a believable friction to Carol and Gabe. Out actor Marshall beautifully plays Barbara with a sanguine simplicity that belies a more complicated backstory. As the estranged daughter, Dubberly is equal parts independence and yearning to reconnect.
Impeccably staged by Woolly’s artistic director Howard Shalwitz, “Baby Screams Miracle” is brought arrestingly to life with house models (James Kronzer) and projections (Jared Mezzocchi) of stormy dark skies with blowing denuded and leafy trees. It’s a dangerous but beautiful thing.