Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
NoHo Arts Center



There’s no doubt Blue Zone Productions’ respectful restoration of Edward Albee’s 1962 epic three-act play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, now playing at the NoHo Arts Center, is sufficiently reverent to the infamous original. Happily, however, director Sara Botsford was not afraid to make untried choices.

There was something genuinely shocking 47 years ago when this infamous quartet of mismatched Eastern Seaboard party guests met back at George and Martha’s house to drink and insult and fornicate the long dysfunctional night away in his enduring and career-making modern landmark. Audiences gasped when Honey shouted “Hump the hostess!” and Martha brayed her displeasure about the sexual deficiencies of her drunken guest’s non-performing husband.

But in an era long since desensitized by Mamet, LaBute, and Lindsay-Abaire, among many other playwrights inspired and given sanction by early Albee’s fearless lead to go even further, the antics and language of these people now seems incredibly tame, plainly revealing that this once groundbreaking play, which will surely in the future help define 20th-century morals and manners, is not quite yet able to make the transfer from dated to classic.

Luckily for this newest reinvention, Botsford had Ann Colby Stocking to play with, as in this dynamic actor’s capable hands, the loud and grating Martha seems to have undergone an abrasive-ectomy since Uta Hagan first made her ice go clink-clink-clink nearly a half-century ago in the original Broadway production.


Stocking begins as a much kinder, gentler Martha, a woman who obviously loves her long-suffering spouse (Jack Patterson) and regularly bursts out in playfully infectious laughter to prove how much she enjoys sharing a more lighthearted sparing match with him. This fresh spin is fascinating as the viciousness and desperation of Martha surfaces gradually during the unraveling of the evening, making it easier to identify with a character it’s always been so simple to immediately hate.

Patterson (who despite a few forgivable first week line glitches after taking over this role from C.S.I.’s Robert David Hall with very short notice not long before opening night) is a perfect punching bag for Stocking. He successfully and quietly underplays his familiar character with a studied calm that quickly telegraphs how long ago the poor walked-over academic “cluck” gave up on his life, offering an understandable explanation for why poor ‘ol “Georgie- Peorgie, put-upon pie” evolved, mainly thanks to his shattered relationship, into a man Martha cheerfully disregards as “that blank, that cipher.”

And as the younger couple who should probably have gone home after the faculty get-together, Teal Sherer and Paul Haitkin are both exceptional. Although neither is really as free within the script’s confines to offer much innovation or personalized creativity in these roles without being distracting, both are still the quintessential deferential foils for Stocking and Patterson’s three-hour joust.


Still, sadly what this suitably “good, better, best, bested” revival misses is in its own objectives within the mission of its fledgling company, which according to its founders’ program notes is to reveal the “disabled experience [that] has routinely gone unheard.” Colorblind casting has already gloriously and significantly come of age in the American theatre and so to now envision Charles Mee-style ability-blind casting, without regard to any limits or preconceptions based on the physical capabilities of its ensemble of players, is a stately step toward important artistic growth and development in the future of the theatrical artform.

Ironically, if Botsford and the producers had chosen to cast performers with disabilities in all four of Albee’s demanding roles, this fine remounting and much-anticipated new look at Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? could have ultimately been far more momentous. But by choosing to use—and publicize the use of—an able-bodied actor to play the studly Nick, they hint at opening an intriguing new conduit between the quartet of dysfunctional mid-century characters that never emerges—and thus regretfully becomes the elephant in the room.


Subtle physical acknowledgements and responses to the fact that George and Martha are disabled and Honey is in a wheelchair could have become tools as juicy for Botsford to explore as Martha’s latter-day sense of soon-abandoned decorum. As is, it seems as though the director and producers were a tad afraid of Virginia after all.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? plays through Mar. 1 at the NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Av., North Hollywood; for tickets, call 323.960.7711. www.thenohoartscenter.com

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com