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Friday, March 1, 2013

Elizabeth Taylor- On Broadway?

Well, not really, but two of her iconic movie roles are having a revival on Broadway. Taylor won an Academy Award for her role of Martha, the hard-drinking, sharp-tongued professor's wife in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and she was nominated for Maggie the Cat in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

It takes a lot of gumption to take on a role so associated with Taylor, and Amy Morton is more than up to the task in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? She and Tracy Letts as her husband George make the roles their own. Letts won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for his Tony-winning play August: Osage County, but I had never seen him act. Morton played Barbara in August, and she was stunning in that.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? can be a tough play to watch. George and Martha are vicious to each other, and their drinking just sharpens their claws. The two other actors in the play, Madison Dirks and Carrie Coon, are both making their Broadway debuts and they are wonderful. They jump right in there as a young married couple invited for late night drinks at George and Martha, forced to participate in the horror show of a bad marriage laid bare.

Several people put Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on their Best of 2012 lists and it deserves to be there. The success of the play depends on the actors and all four deliver the goods. Letts explodes with an anger you fear will bring down the roof; his is a fearless performance. Morton verbally pokes at her husband as she constantly refills her drink to drown out her anger. She is so tightly wound you fear she will snap right in front of you on the stage. Hers is a performance never to be be forgotten.

One word about the staging. I have a lot of books in my small apartment, and my first thought at seeing the set of George and Martha's living room, filled haphazardly with books stacked everywhere, was that my apartment could end up looking like that if I am not careful (and if I had a drinking problem. My place lacks a bar cart.)

The end of the play is so emotionally draining for the audience, I don't know how the actors are able to perform the show twice on matinee days. They put everything out there on the stage and take no prisoners, it is an unforgettable experience to have seen this amazing show. The limited run play closes Sunday.

Scarlett Johansson bravely revives Maggie the Cat in Cat on A Hot Tin Roof. The first act is all Maggie in a 40 minute monologue, and Johansson has the goods. There have been many memorable Maggies onstage, but most people conjure the image of Liz Taylor in her slip when they think of the character.

Benjamin Walker, so frenetic and fantastic in Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson a few years ago has a much quieter role here as Brick, Maggie's alcoholic sad husband. He stumbles about on crutches, devastated by the suicide of his best friend Skipper after Skipper made a pass at Brick. Brick is confused and Maggie tries to her best to sexually arouse her husband to no avail. His best scenes are with Big Daddy as they argue and physically fight.

Ciaran Hinds owns the stage as Big Daddy, the family patriarch dying of cancer. Every time he steps on the stage, you can't help but follow him. Debra Monk plays Big Mama with just the right combination of fierce loyalty and desperation. My heart ached for her.

Emily Bergl is memorable as the conniving Mae, the sister-in-law no one wants around. She pushes her husband to make sure he gets his due of attention, respect and money from his family.

Rob Ashford directed the production, and I have one problem with it: the constant movement of minor characters on the stage is distracting. While the story is taking place in one room of the mansion, there are servants, the doctor and others wandering about the edges of the stage, at times singing and it distracts from the dialogue on stage. I think it takes away from the power of the play.
The limited run play closes March 30th, and there are discounted tickets available.

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