Nothing is what it seems. The contorted, angered faces, the vulgar verbal games, the psychological chess match between players determined only to win the prize of continued camouflage. Characters who stumble around in drunken chaos, a masquerade made in part by their own foolish arrogance, in part by their own powerlessness to confront the reality calling up out of their unacknowledged anguish and sorrow. Summoned by such unredeemable forces, they fight, they flirt, they attack, they cajole, they wail, they joke, they seduce each other, while the claustrophobic walls of their living room constricts ever more narrowly until a truth is not only revealed but experienced.
You all have been invited for drinks and after party conversation at the home of George and Martha, in New Carthage, New England—the setting of “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf”. Directed by Cydney Jones, the Huntsville Theatre Company proudly presents the Edward Albee masterpiece at Hidden Valley Ski Resort. (Note: performances are scheduled from May 21-24, but may be rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.)
Cydney Jones has been an actor, stage manager, set designer and a most passionate advocate for theatre arts in Huntsville since she first appeared as Tree #1 in the 2009 production of “Wizard of Oz”, staged by the Huntsville Theatre Company (HTC).
Since that time, Cydney has purposefully accumulated experience and skill in all aspects of theatre performance, culminating in her proposal that HTC tackle perhaps one of the most exhilarating, divisive, and argued-over dramas from the past fifty years. It is her artistic vision and courage which brings this extraordinary production into realization for Huntsville audiences. A year-long preparation has preceded the staging of the play. Jones has actively shaped all the elements of production. As director, she has had to determine the underpinning rationale for the action of a play that is both nuanced and multi-layered in complexity. Is the play a metaphor or a dramatized fictional event? How the director weaves the dialogue and stage direction of the four actors around the one-room set will determine the answer.
Casting actors with the stamina, charisma and emotional capacity to fashion these challenging characters was paramount. George and Martha, whose failing marriage and corrupt relationship appears to be the central premise of the play, was a key component in actualizing this production. Cydney has found two accomplished actors to portray these central roles: Shayne Lebrun as George and Kyla Taylor as Martha.
The story evolves around George and Martha, an older, married, professional couple who return from a party already primed by a night of drinking and pseudo-intellectual gossip with their colleagues to their dour living room. George is already withered and weary but Martha wants entertainment. She is feisty, argumentative, and hungry for adult games, if not more. She has invited a younger couple who appear to have all the potential the older pair seem not to have realized. Into this cauldron, the couple enters to find George and Martha engaged in combative banter. The ensuing events of the evening are a whirlwind of revelations and crippling self-incrimination.
The invitation of the younger couple, Honey and Nick, is both narrative and structural in purpose, for it also acts as an invitation for the audience to gaze, up close and personal, into the deterioration of a marriage masked in self-delusion and censure. Honey is played by Millie Cassie-Batchelor and Nick by Rob Duncan. From its opening scene to its climax, the play is riddled with provocative language, suggestion, and relentless counter play between the characters as they slowly devolve and the respective truths hidden behind their masks emerge. It is the continued tension and mounting debauchery that gives the play such a breathtaking exuberance. Only a director of Cydney’s proficiency would undertake such a demanding performance. This is orchestrated art at its highest accomplishment, akin to a masterwork from Beethoven or Mozart, and Cydney Jones must conduct every scene with the care and sensitivity the work demands.
Sharing a stage with Cyd was truly a pleasure…..her passion and professionalism brought Winnie to life…..I look forward to the next time I get to work with her, as should anyone that has the opportunity.
~Grant Nickalls, Cydney’s co-star in “When Winnie Knew”
When Albee’s explosive script was staged for the first time, it was greeted with both delight and contempt. The scope of its multiple themes, presented through the corrosive interplay of the four main characters, was unsettling and exhausting. Every aspect of Edward Albee’s 1962 play appears to have been designed with intentional forethought. The one-room set serves almost as an arena in which the confined action boils over in dangerous tension. There was no escaping the moral collapse that spills unto the stage. The unrelenting drama strips away any pretense and apparent redeeming possibilities for the older couple, Martha and George, yet some glimmer of hope survives. For having destroyed themselves and their guests, perhaps they have stepped through the looking glass of their own illusions. Perhaps, in doing so, we witness a true act of love and sacrifice, or perhaps we only witness defeat.
This is theatre at its most aspirational. Although the story’s action has been thoroughly exposed through many adaptations, including the notable 1966 movie of the same name, there remains much to be discovered. It would seem that in these times of unrelenting misinformation and contradictory facts, some of the themes Albee chose to explore might be self-evident. Written in the hopeful times of John F. Kennedy’s early presidential term, the play underscored the unraveling of many of the myths, hopes, and dreams that era falsely tantalized the unsuspecting with.
Many have argued throughout the years, since its inception, that “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” was in some ways mocking the generations and debunking the values both local and global that George and Martha, Honey and Nick seem to represent. There is most certainly a piece of the puzzle to be found in this interpretation. Cydney Jones feels that the play is also a study in self-awareness not only for the characters themselves but also for the audience. The drama unfolds in real time so that much of the insight, however uncomfortable, that characters go through is also experienced, or reacted to, by the audience.
Albee’s initial experience in the theatre probably prepared him to experiment with such interaction between the actors and those witnessing the action. At the time, this seemed controversial and bold.
Jones hopes that this play will invoke a similar response and that theatregoers will be given “something” that will prompt their own investigation into the masks or the faces we keep ourselves protected behind. These are huge themes and Huntsville audiences are bound to be enthralled by this most powerful production as realized by Cydney Jones’ direction and presented by the Huntsville Theatre Company.
For updates and ticket information, visit huntsvilletheatre.org
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