Review Number 2 is in for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Western Reserve actors pull viewer in to disturbing marital war in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

Mia Radabaugh and Dennis Runkle thoroughly own the stage in the sick marital war that is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at Western Reserve Playhouse in Bath.

The 1962 drama by the late Edward Albee plays with the concept of truth vs. illusion as George and Martha make a grand display of their hateful behavior toward each other, sucking their two young guests into their late-night battle.

In this story, during an alcohol-infused night, the older couple, including history professor George, have younger couple Nick and Honey over for a nightcap at their home on the campus of a small New England college. As blond, handsome biology professor Nick, Maximillian Winer at first acts polite and amiable. But as the drinks flow and Martha turns up her vitriol, he starts to reveal just how smug he is.

Honey, on the other hand, is the true innocent of the bunch. She’s played sweetly by Kayla Lehman, who gives her a ditzy, tipsy air. She never seems totally drunk, though, even when Honey becomes sick. Winer, on the other hand, does a great job of portraying Nick’s growing drunkenness.

This production, directed by Kelly Strand at Western Reserve Playhouse, is as nasty as any I’ve seen. In such capable actors’ hands, it’s clear that Albee’s script, which won a Tony for best play when it was created more than half a century ago, has stood the test of time.

The brilliant Albee devastatingly brings to light the bitterness and disappointment that are the basis of middle-age couple George and Martha’s complicated relationship. It feels like we all need to pay heed to George’s warning when he tells Nick early on, “You’re standing in quicksand” when it comes to Martha.

In “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Albee uses a lot of word play and repetition in a circling-back pattern of verbal abuse between George and Martha, including her repeatedly calling him boggy or swampy and him referring to her father as a red-eyed mouse. It’s a densely written play that presents a gargantuan task for the George and Martha actors, roles that both Runkle and Radabaugh take on expertly.

The only problem is that Runkle looks too old as George. The character’s supposed to be in his 40s but look like he’s in his 50s. We’re not buying that, though, as Runkle looks like he’s into his 60s. Martha’s also supposed to be older than George, but Radabaugh actually looks quite a bit younger than Runkle.

Slowly, mention of George and Martha’s “blond-eyed, blue-haired” son comes out, a metaphor for their last shred of marital hope. Their all-but-ruined marriage is hanging solely by the thread of a sick, sad fiction they’ve created together.

As Martha, Radabaugh is unapologetically bold, mouthy, vulgar and predatory. You see flashes of humor as she toys with young Nick, but her moves are all calculated and dangerous.

The actress makes it very clear that Martha’s main activity is constantly trying to egg George on. Runkle’s George is slower to anger, but when George finally decides to go after his wife, he does so in slash-and-burn style.

The emotional devastation in this play is enough to leave you breathless, watching painful truths emerge from both the older, bitter couple and the younger, also-troubled couple, who serve as a foil to George and Martha.

By the end of this show, the mentally abusive Martha is reduced to pure pain and fear, kneeling on floor. Radabaugh is a sight to behold as she dwells in this character’s emotional brokenness.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.