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Steppenwolf's Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Lives Up To The Hype

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 4, 2011 6:20PM

Carrie Coon, ensemble member Tracy Letts, Madison Dirks and ensemble member Amy Morton in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Photo by Michael Brosilow
By: Rachael Scholten

In the same way the names behind True Grit - Cohen! Bridges! Damon! - had movie-lovers drooling before the first take, Steppenwolf’s production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was set up to be this season’s smash-hit - Albee! Morton! Letts! - before the first rehearsal. And thanks to what the LA Times calls “the great Albee-Steppenwolf Thaw of 2010” (more on that later), the production lives up to the hype. And more.

A Pulitzer and Tony winner, Edward Albee is one of the finest (and living, natch) playwrights of the 20th century. His Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won him the Tony in 1962 and is right up there in the canon with Death of a Salesman and Streetcar Named Desire.

Woolf follows the course of a drunken night in which George (Tracy Letts) and Martha (Amy Morton), a long-married couple in a small New England college town, have over younger couple Nick and Honey after a soiree at the university where both men are professors. What begins as awkward small talk quickly escalates into full on emotional warfare between George and Martha, of which Nick and Honey are the unfortunate civilian casualties. By the end of the night, there is not one stone that George and Martha leave unturned in the night’s epic battle of will (and wits).

Which leads to Letts and Morton. The duo that the Trib dubbed “Mr. and Mrs. Steppenwolf” hold onto the title once again, with their captivating combo of chemistry (Angie and Brad circa Mr. and Mrs. Smith) and acting chops (Streep and De Niro circa always). Individually, they are tremendous actors, but thanks to a long history of working together (including a production of Woolf in which Morton directed Letts in the role of George), together the two are an incredibly powerful duo whose back and forth rat-a-tat is almost Shakespearean.

And as for The Thaw: Woolf marks the first time ever that an Albee play has been produced at Steppenwolf due to a longstanding feud that involved the crazy kids at Steppenwolf wanting to do “something naughty” with the playwright’s work in the 1970s. But those crazy kids have grown up and are now the most respected actors and playwrights in American theatre; and, as Albee quoted, “I can only hold a grudge for no more than 25 years.”

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, now through February 13 at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted, Tuesday - Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday - Sunday at 3 p.m., for tickets $20 - $75 call 312-335-1650, or visit the website