Victoria Summer 2011 Theater with the Blue Bridge Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolfe

Meg Tilly as Martha in Who's afraid of Virginia Woolfe?As much as I enjoy a well written, filmed and acted movie – whether it be drama, comedy or action adventure, it never comes close to live theater – especially when it is great theater – like most of the productions that Victoria’s own Blue Bridge Repertory have been delivering.

Blue Bridge Repertory Theater, established in 2008 is led by veteran producer and director Brian Richmond. The founders of B.B. were convinced that the City of Victoria would support a professional theater offering its residents and visitors the opportunity to see world class productions of the great plays while offering early professional artists, many from UVic, the opportunity to work with some of Canada’s most respected directors and actors.

Andrea and I have been supporting Blue Bridge for the last couple of years. With this latest production, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?, we feel they have simply outdone themselves.

The story revolves around associate professor George (played by the massively talented Andrew Wheeler) and his boozy and combative wife, Martha (played to breathtaking perfection by Meg Tilly) as they wind their way through an evening with a younger faculty member, Nick (in the role a dyed blond Alex Plouffe…) and his capricious and often bubble-headed wife, Honey, (again played to perfection by the skilled Celine Stubel).

“Who’s Afraid” is as much gut-wrenching drama, with impeccably timed witticism and repartee as it is a oddly comedic study on the nature of human romantic and sexual relationships… and their eventual and epic decay into sadness, loss and frustration.

And as much as I expected Meg Tilly, as Martha, to steal the “show”, that would be unfair to the rest of the ensemble cast – the truth is, Ms. Tilly puts everything on the line with her character. Martha is a gin soaked, bombastic whirlwind whose unrelenting cannonade of cyclonic verbal abuse leaves the average viewer, inexperienced with any form of domestic calamity, in a sensory coma. The literacy of the two characters, Martha and George, and their collaborative seduction and corruption of the two guests create a sense of team folly – that keeps us guessing as to their motives and their true feelings for each other.

“Who’s afraid” is a three act play with two 15 minute intermissions – and the intermissions are as as much an opportunity for the audience to grab some oxygen and ground themselves as they are for the cast to take a breather.

For the two of us, neither of whom have ever seen the movie (with Liz and Richard), I had no idea of what to expect. “Who’s Afraid” is a hurricane of journeyman acting and the key to balance is equal participation of all four members. It’s not for the faint of heart or those with delicate sensibilities. There is a visceral sexuality and open-wound emotional vulnerability that would, if not unchecked with the brilliant dialogue, lead to overload in short order. Most of us survived. The audience did dwindle after the end of the 2nd intermission – but that was more a product of the late start and the average age of the audience – many of whom were way passed bedtime.

Meg Tilly’s portrayal of Martha demands complete physicality, full-on, safety off, emotional release. Watching her from the 4th row of the “Mac” wind up and unleash a fury of frustration infused verbal abuse upon an all-to-eager to expiate and thoroughly pecked George… was exhausting – and the relief would come in the final moments of the final act with a completely unexpected and dazzling dénouement.

Andrea commented after the standing ovation – “How does one sleep after a performance like that – how does anyone have anything left to give?”
I have never seen anything like it in my life – like many people, I have witnessed some domestic fireworks in my childhood, most of which began and ended within seconds or minutes and did not involve any physical harm to anyone – But “Who’s afraid” takes you to a place you have never been before, a place you don’t want to be – and it’s only the artful skill of the thespians that allow you to witness the complete extreme of human pain and domestic discourse without completely being blown from the theater.

Meg and the cast of “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolfe” were utterly brilliant and delivered “the goods” – their interpretation of timeless sexuality infidelity and complete sadness within the context of the drama was flawless. If you were lucky enough to get tickets to this show… Enjoy… and I use that term loosely.