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Party Down

Firehouse Theatre's “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is nearly flawless.

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One young couple. One middle-aged couple. Thirty-five drinks. These are the ingredients for a night of fun and games at George and Martha's.

Set at a small New England college in 1962, Edward Albee's “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf' chronicles an evening with a bitter married couple and exposes their darkest secrets. Under Rusty Wilson's superb direction at the Firehouse Theatre, the show captures all of the anger and humor that Albee intended.

Larry Cook's George and Laine Satterfield's Martha come out of the gate swinging, and have the stamina to keep it going through the show's three acts. Cook's calculated anger and Satterfield's unpredictable spirit are excellent, and neither seems outmatched at any point while they paint rich and layered portraits of these characters. They have histories and broken dreams both said and unsaid, and the actors' portrayals are unreasonably good. Cook stumbles over a few lines in the first performance, but chalk that up to opening-night jitters.

This play's dialogue is quite difficult for an actor — the sparring matches between characters make an Ali-Frazier bout seem like child's play.

Jonathan Conyers and Amy Sproul are flawless and just right as Nick and Honey, the young married couple sucked into the madness by their older counterparts. We get to see Conyers' cocky self-assurance slowly wear away during the course of the show, and Sproul's veneer as the happy young wife jumps out the window once the tables turn on her.

Phil Hayes' worn set is a perfect backdrop for the bourbon-soaked duels, and Rebecca Cairn's costumes fit the time period and the character's personalities. The only major flaw is Geno Brantley's lighting design. For a play that takes place between 2 in the morning and dawn, the lighting inside George and Martha's home is much too bright. Martha desires to feel seductive, and lighting her house like a Kmart simply destroys the mood.

The subjects tackled in this show are excruciating to witness, but like a train wreck, neither the audience nor the young couple can tear their eyes away from the carnage. Failure, malice and violence are major themes of a show that exposes the dark undercurrent that runs through us all. The Firehouse has done an amazing job pulling off a tough show. S

“Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” plays at the Firehouse Theatre, 1609 W. Broad St., through Oct. 2. Tickets at 355-2001 or firehousetheatre.org.

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