Theater Review: Artists' Ensemble opens second season

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-112672373732051.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘Artists' Ensemble opens its second season with the Edward Albee classic 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'. Show runs through Sept. 18.’);

For many, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is the movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The adaptation of Edward Albee’s work is a far cry from the original stage production, and seeing the three-act play gives the audience a true picture of the humor and diversity of dialogue missing in the film.

A contemporary of Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill, Albee was greatly influenced by the work of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. These playwrights of the ’50s were bringing to the stage controversial and often misunderstood works based on existentialism. Character development and the emotions of those playing the roles became the primary focus of these new playwrights. Who’s Afraid… became Albee’s most memorable effort and remains today the prime example of the genre.

Artists’ Ensemble took a risk in choosing this drama as their first play of the second season. Not everyone in the audience is familiar with Albee or his background. He was adopted by a wealthy couple when only a few weeks old, and his mother insisted that he become a part of New York society. Their battles continued throughout his life, and in 1953 he moved to Greenwich Village and became a part of the artistic community. A play, Three Tall Women, staged at Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago a few years ago, is Albee’s story of his mother at three stages of her life. Receiving mixed reviews, it chronicles the life of a controlling woman.

Returning to the stage in the roles of Martha and George are Linda Abronski and Stephen F. Vrtol III. Admirably equipped to play two torn characters fighting to retain their individuality, Vrtol and Abronski interpret Albee’s play beautifully. We do not often think of humor when we recall Who’s Afraid…, but laughs erupted from the very first scene. Quiet moments, too, became an integral part of the evening.

Jeff Christian is Nick, the blond god, eventually revealing secrets that are best left untold, while his tiny “slim-hipped” wife, played by Makeesha Sharp, wanders in a stupor trying to make sense of the madness.

Richard Raether directs, and his work is a challenge. He says, “One moment I was thrilled by the challenge, and the next moment, I was wondering if I had lost my mind.”

The play runs nearly three hours in three acts and is set in the 1960s. We see an example of society consuming vast amounts of alcohol and attempting to find the meaning of unfulfilled lives. Who’s Afraid… is not for every audience. It is not Dorothy and Toto, but if you want the experience of intellectual stimulation, this play is for you.

Noel Rennerfeldt designed the set, but Stage Manager Elizabeth Drog did much of the actual construction. The result is a beautiful New England home where emotions run rampant. Credits also go to Eric Stehl, lighting design; Jan Bacino, costume coordinator; Jim Radloff, assistant scenic design and prop master; John Cobb, sound design; and Kris Walters, production assistant.

Playing at Rockford College’s Maddox Theatre, the show runs through Sept. 18. For tickets, call the box office at 226-4100. You can also purchase tickets for the balance of the season.

From the Sept. 14-20, 2005, issue

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