If you are talking to Edward Albee, don’t refer to the new production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” as a revival. “A revival,” he said, “is something that was dead and brought back to life. ‘Virginia Woolf’ has never been dead.” In fact, he continued, the play has never aged.
Audiences will have an opportunity to determine that for themselves when the “new and best production ever”—Albee’s preferred characterization—opens March 20 at the Longacre Theater. And don’t go back and look at the 1966 film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Albee added that that might be a worthwhile exercise if he had been given the cast he was promised—Bette Davis and James Mason.
Nevertheless, the cosmos seem to be aligning for the third New York production of the play and the first time it will be seen on Broadway in 30 years. Kathleen Turner takes on the role of Martha, a woman she described as having “few if any boundaries.” At a press event two weeks ago introducing the cast and the production, Turner said that she always knew that “once I turned 50, I would play Martha. And the call came the week I turned 50. How’s that?”
Bill Irwin, who gave an incredible performance in Albee’s “The Goat” on Broadway opposite Sally Field, has best been known for his intensely physical performances and clowning, will play opposite Turner. There is a sense that the two are evenly matched and that Irwin will use his considerable, if quiet, power to advantage. George is, after all he explained, “the last man standing in the play.”
But prepare to be surprised. Director Anthony Page described it as having elements of Restoration comedy and Greek tragedy. “More people are familiar with the idea of the play than the play itself,” he said.
The new production came about as the result of a reading last year with the actors who will be doing it on Broadway, and though the play has been a long time returning to Broadway, the production has come together fairly quickly. Elizabeth McCann, Albee’s long-time producer, is behind the show, and it is one of the season’s most eagerly anticipated shows.—Christopher Byrne
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opens on March 20 at the Longacre Theater, 220 West 48 Street. Call 212-239-6200 for tickets, priced from $45-$90.