Friday, January 15, 2010

Fear and Loathing at the Cultch

Diana and I caught Blackbird Theatre's current mounting of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Cultch's Historic Theatre last night. The show justly merits the critical kudos it's been receiving. If this production doesn't quite obliterate for me Mike Nichols' iconic film version, with Liz Taylor and Dick Burton slugging out their own relationship on screen, nor the recent Broadway revival with Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin (in a devastatingly intense performance as George that was a revelation, if only because it succeeded in completely superseding my previous image of Irwin as an acclaimed commedia-trained clown), it still packs a mighty emotional wallop. And all four performers--Meg Roe and Craig Erickson as the in-over-their-heads Honey and Nick, Kevin McNulty as a seethingly acerbic George, and especially the great Gabrielle Rose as a braying and suitably blousy Martha--are excellent. Rose's pitch-perfect enunciation, which betrays her character's own thwarted academic ambitions, is worth the price of admission alone--though one does wonder why none of the characters slurs even once over the course of the play's three acts and as many hours, especially given how much alcohol they consume.

One thing I had forgotten about the play is George's humanist attack on biologist Nick and the new race of superhuman blond, blue-eyed athletes he and his colleagues are going to produce via their test tubes. Pretty prescient stuff for 1962, and remarkably current in terms of our own bio-engineered and biopolitical age. Of course, Albee's play can--and I think should--be read as a complete attack on heteronormativity, with George's murder of his and Martha's non-existent son the more humane, and arguably resistant, solution to the sort of mass extermination that the Nicks of this world will soon perfect. As Martha notes at the end of the play, we should all be afraid, very very afraid.

Unfortunately, an otherwise very enjoyable night at the theatre was marred somewhat by some unnecessary annoyances. Diana and I had arrived early, hoping to have a drink and some nibbles at the just-opened wine bar and cafe. This we proceeded to do, but not before asking if we could pick up our tickets first. No, we were told, the box office wasn't open yet (at least not officially); we would have to come back at 6:30 pm, and line up outside in the rain with everyone else. Why? And why have only one ticket booth open on a night like last night, with the line snaking up to Victoria, and heaps of Cultch staff wandering around inside with seemingly nothing to do? Then, too, the kitchen staff might want to get a few more items on their menu. The charcuterie offerings are relatively slim, with two of the listed items last night selling out after we had ordered--and we were the first customers!

But none of this matched our collective dismay at finding ourselves seated behind a woman who, throughout the performance, laughed and snorted in a cacophonous combination of Martha and Honey's grating tones, mostly at the most inappropriate and emotionally intense moments.

But don't let any of this stop you from hurrying to catch the remaining four performances of this excellent show (it closes Sunday evening). Blackbird, like many arts groups in the province, is in dire straits right now, and as a theatre company devoted to producing works from the classic repertory to the highest professional standards, it deserves our full support.


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