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Theater review

Actor leapt at chance to play ‘Virginia Woolf ’ role again

Thursday, March 7, 2013
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Theater review


Frank Pickus, as George, and Christine Vermilyea, as Martha, rehearse a scene from the Colonial Little Theatre production of Edward Albee's "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Frank Pickus, as George, and Christine Vermilyea, as Martha, rehearse a scene from the Colonial Little Theatre production of Edward Albee's "Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

When the opportunity to play George in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” presented itself to Frank Pickus this year, he didn’t have to think twice.

“I had the role at the Glove Theatre, I don’t know, about 10 years ago, and the writing was so beautiful that as the play was ending I said to myself, ‘Oh boy, I could use a few more weeks of this,’ ” said Pickus, who will visit the character again in this month’s production at the Colonial Little Theatre in Johnstown.

“I felt like I was just scratching the surface. I told myself, ‘If I ever get another opportunity to do it, I’ll jump on it.’ It’s a bucket list role. I feel very fortunate to be able to do it twice at the community theater level.”

The play opened on Broadway in October of 1962 to much acclaim — and received plenty of notoriety for its crude language and sexual themes. The plot revolves around the stormy relationship between George, a college professor, and his wife, Martha, the daughter of the college president. The piece won five Tonys, including one for Arthur Hill for his performance as George, and was also pegged to win the Pulitzer for Best Drama before the award’s advisory board objected to the play’s controversial elements and overruled the decision.

‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

WHERE: Colonial Little Theatre, 1 Colonial Court, Johnstown

WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through March 17

HOW MUCH: $12

MORE INFO: 762-4325, www.coloniallittletheatre.org

Movie version

In 1966, Mike Nichols directed Hollywood’s version with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the two primary roles. The movie won five Oscars, including one for Taylor as Best Actress, and earned nominations for Best Picture and Best Actor (for Burton).

“I saw the movie once, when I was too young, but I did watch it again when I was involved in the other production I was in, and I really liked it,” said Pickus. “Each time I see it, I’m discovering new things about the characters.”

Last month, Pickus went down to New York City to see a revival of the play on Broadway, with Tracy Letts as George and Amy Morton as Martha.

“I thought it was spectacular,” he said. “I think the movie did a little disservice to the play because in most people’s memories all they remember is a lot of people yelling at each other. I’ve had a number of people say that to me since I’ve been working on this production, but that’s really not what it’s about. There’s so much more to it.”

John Birchler is directing the Colonial Little Theatre production, and Christine Vermilyea is Martha. Playing the young couple visiting George and Martha after a party on campus are Knathan McKenzie-Roy as Nick and Anna Guntner as Honey.

“I’ve had wonderful conversations with the cast about the characters in the play,” said Birchler. “They are so intense, and so full of surprises you’re never quite sure what you’re going to learn about them. I’ve always admired the work. It’s a very heady kind of play.”

It’s a long one, too. While Albee trimmed down this version of the play for a 2005 revival, it’s still a time commitment for theatergoers. Birchler, however, is hopeful the play’s length won’t detract the audience from showing up.

“Albee cut 20 pages from the script, so we’re not doing the original version on Broadway that went three hours and 20 minutes,” said Birchler.

“But it is about three hours, with two intermissions. I think they [the audience] have to be willing to really think about what the people are saying. Nothing is black and white, and there is a lot of irony and sarcasm in the play. Believe it or not it’s quite funny at times with some very rich comic lines. The actors have to make sure that the comedy comes across, and the audience has to really pay attention.”

Pickus, meanwhile, is hopeful that even casual theater fans will show up and watch what many critics call the best play by the best American playwright of the late 20th century.

“I think the play has appeal to a wide range of people,” he said. “I think it’s a great play, I’ve enjoyed every production I’ve seen, and now, even at 90, Albee is still fiddling with it. It has lost some of its ability to shock us, because what was shocking in the 1960s isn’t so shocking now. But it’s still a great work.”

Individual portrayal

As much as he has enjoyed earlier portrayals of George, Pickus said his George will be his own.

“I think everyone I’ve seen do the play has brought something different to George,” he said. “The one I just saw in New York has George being quite aggressive right from the start. I’ve enjoyed all of them, so do I have a favorite? No. The writing is rich enough that it allows for different interpretations.”

Birchler has also seen a handful of different stage versions of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” including a production with Tony Roberts in Saratoga Springs back in 1984.

“The George Tony Roberts portrayed was much different than the one played by Richard Burton,” said Birchler, “and Frank has his own ideas about the character. He went to see the Broadway revival, and we talked about what he saw. But I didn’t want him to change anything. He’s doing quite well.”

Birchler designed his own set for this production, and Maryanne Abad is his prop person.

“The set is very cluttered,” he said. “They’re not a very neat couple. Their lives are messy, their house is messy, there’s stuff all over the place.”

While Albee was deprived of his 1963 Pulitzer for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” he did win Pulitzers in 1967 (“A Delicate Balance”), 1975 (“Seascape”) and 1994 (“Three Tall Women”). He has three Tonys to his credit, one a lifetime achievement award, and has six Tony nominations.

‘Five Guys Named Moe’

WHERE: Cohoes Music Hall, 58 Remsen St., Cohoes

WHEN: Opens 8 p.m. tonight and runs through March 17; performance times: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $35-$25

MORE INFO: 237-7999, www.cohoesmusichall.com

More openings

Also opening this weekend are productions at the Cohoes Music Hall and the Charles R. Wood Theater in Glens Falls.

‘All My Sons’

WHERE: Charles R. Wood Theater, 207 Glen St., Glens Falls

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $25-$10

MORE INFO: 874-0800, www.woodtheater.org

C-R Productions is putting on “Five Guys Named Moe,” a musical revue with book by Clarke Peters and music by “King of the Jukebox” Louis Jordan, a ground-breaking musician from the 1930-50s. The story revolves around a guy named Nomax who is a bit down on his luck but gets cheered up as a cast of five characters magically spring to life out of his 1930s radio.

In Glens Falls, Lake George Dinner Theatre director Terry Rabine is mounting a production of Arthur Miller’s classic work, “All My Sons.” Neil Akins plays the lead character in the show, which will be held for just one weekend only. Producing the show along with Rabine are Wrightstage Productions and the Charles R. Wood Theater.

 
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