Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

You know how some people dread the holidays because they have a difficult time relating to their dysfunctional family? Well, who better to spend the holidays with then than that first couple of hospitality, George and Martha? No, not the Father of our Country and our first First Lady, George and Martha Washington. No, George and Martha of Edward Albee fame, you know, the couple made famous by that famous couple, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

When Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was first produced in 1962, the country was scandalized by the raw language and behavior of the characters. Despite its critical acclaim and its commercial success of the play on Broadway, the Pulitzer committee refused to honor the playwright (though it did so on three other occasions).

Now in production by Shadow Theatre Company, Denver's resident African-American theatre company, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? reveals that behind all the surface fireworks, it's really a play about humankind's incredible capacity for self-deception.

As Martha, Sheila Ivy Traister simply astounds, taking what is often a joint decent into the quagmire of depravity and turning it into her own epic tragedy. Traister shows just enough glimpses of Martha's vulnerability to create empathy and understanding for what could be a completely unsympathetic role. Her keen pacing as well sets the stage for Martha's broken-hearted final scene.

For his part though, Hugo Jon Sayles fails to find the right notes for George, coming out full bore in Act I, leaving little room for the nuances of the protracted war he carries on with his wife. On opening night, Sayles also struggled with his lines enough to be distracting.

Cajardo R. Lindsey is solid as Nick, the new faculty member unsuspectingly thrust into the haunted Peyton Place of George and Martha's collegial frenzy. Lindsey manages to maintain Nick's dignity despite the host couple's best efforts to demean him and his wife Honey.

Kimberly Beatrice McWilliams, as the paradoxically giggling and na´ve then hard swilling and dark-secreted Honey, is alternately convincing and absurd, with her over-the-top hyena-like laughter for what should come across as childish simple-mindedness.

Despite the rough spots though, Traister's Martha makes the production a winner. Shadow Theatre Company's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, directed by Jeffrey W. Nickelson, runs through December 10th at the Ralph Waldo Emerson Center at 14th and Ogden. 303-837-9355.

Bob Bows


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