The Great American Play




Josh Schell, Beth Wilmurt and David Sinaiko in the Shotgun Theater production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Gail and I love the theater.  We’ve had the good fortune to have seen many of the greatest American plays, with fabulous actors.  Long Day’s Journey.  Our Town. Streetcar. Death of a Salesman. Glen Garry, Glen Ross. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.   The list goes on.  Sunday night, we went to the Shotgun theater in Berkeley and saw what I think is the greatest, the singular “Great American Play”, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.

It is one thing to re-watch the 1966 movie as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton chew the scenery while tearing each other apart, but the intimacy of a stage production, for the entire 3 hours of the play, is vastly more satisfying.  This production uses a bare stage with no furniture, just a wall in back with liquor bottles to facilitate the massive drinking that drives the breakdown in social norms and behavior the play highlights.  This theater is small, the closeness is palpable.

We’ve seen this play before; the production in San Francisco starring Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner.  I think I like the Shotgun version better, partly because of the small venue and partly because of the direction, which just seemed to make the play clearer.  For the first time I felt the depth of the love between George and Martha, the love that binds even through the tearing, shattering, soul-killing fighting and game playing.  David Sinaiko, as George, has a depth and strength that bears through all the brow-beating and emasculation from his harridan, alcoholic shrew of a wife.  Beth Wilmurt (Martha), is stronger and less blowsy at the beginning of the play, gradually dissolving into a blob of tearful jelly as George wreaks his terrible vengeance on her, shattering the central illusion of their marriage.

The play will run just one more week at Shotgun, then return in repertory in December.  Tickets are cheap.  You don’t want to miss it.




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