St. Edward’s University has made a name for itself as one of the premiere companies in town not just because of its highly talented students, but because of the high quality of actors they get to play alongside them. For their latest piece, a production of Edward Albee’s acclaimed black comedy Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, St. Ed’s brings in a pair of pros, Ev Lunning, Jr. and Babs George, to light up the classic about emotional spousal abuse and party games, leaving them in the skilled hands of director Christina J. Moore. Though many people will come in thinking of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, they’ll find this production a horse of a very different color, though still well worth their time.
Veteran actor Ev Lunning, Jr. plays George with such a unbridled intensity, audience members will find themselves dangling on the edge of the seats for almost the entire run of the play. He roars across stage with the fury of a raging typhoon, and yet can still bring the sensitivity of a summer rain when the need arises, always meticulously planning which can better serve his purposes. His chemistry with Babs George is practically combustible, two gunners shooting shots across the bow in an awe-inspiring display of skill that you can only see between two seasoned veterans giving it their all. He forgoes simply aping Richard Burton, as many actors are apt to do, and instead pulls from the character his own, intriguing personality, a being of rich complexity we can’t help but sympathize for as he’s ripped to shreds throughout the piece, even as he turns around and rips apart in kind.
Babs George as Martha never strays far from her Hollywood counterpart of Elizabeth Taylor, but her performance is still far from copycat. Her character is a healthy mix of coquettish minx and brutal grizzly, seducing the men once second and turning on them the next. She slinks and struts across the stage as if she owns it, and when she hits her highs, it’s difficult to watch anything else. She and Lunning elevate the talents of the younger actors simply by being on stage with them, bringing the whole production to an entirely new echelon.
Though the two elder actors steal most of the show, we mustn’t disregard the fine work done by the young folks in the cast. Meredith Montgomery, who showed promise in her small role in the St Ed’s previous production, The Imaginary Invalid, here cements her spot as one to watch, bringing a delightful giddiness to the role of Honey. She spends most of the performance off her gourd, and she plays the bubbliness and vapidness of the character with gusto, creating some of the most humorous moments in the work. Kel Sanders plays her husband, Nick, a young biology professor who will do anything to get to the top, and he plays him with an ever-present subtle strength. Sanders’ charisma and stage presence are unquestionable, making it difficult not to admire him, despite the fact that, on the whole, everything Nick does is petty and self-serving. In a play full of characters it’s easy to hate, Sanders is somehow able to spin Nick into a kind of antagonist, a great skill for a young actor to have in his back pocket.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is a test for any group of actors, but this cast aces it with flying colors, bringing vivid life to Albee’s most famous play, creating characters that we can’t help but cheer for, cry for, and despise, all in equal measure. The veterans and the newcomers alike both put their own stamp on the work, creating not a recreation of the movie or past productions, but instead forming something new and exciting that even those familiar with the story and its characters are sure to love.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is playing through this Sunday, November 21st at Mary Mooody Northern Theater, so be sure to get your tickets now so you won’t miss a minute of this exciting comedy. To purchase tickets, and find more information, visit St. Edward’s theatre site here.