Love Is A Battlefield With Intrepid Theatre’s ‘Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?’
Married actors Robert and Deborah Gilmour Smyth play Edward Albee’s combative couple
Friday, February 12, 2016
Credit: Daren Scott
Love has been called a battlefield and one savage example of that can be found in Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando checks out the casualties at Intrepid Theater’s new production of the play.
Love has been called a battlefield and one savage example of that can be found in Edward Albee’s play "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Intrepid Theatre's production is calling on a married acting couple to play Albee’s famously combative George and Martha.
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, in the midst of their own tempestuous marriage, played Albee's couple in a 1966 film. Having a real married couple play the fictional spouses adds interest to any production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Just ask Robert and Deborah Gilmour Smyth. They are married actors who have taken a break from their duties running the Lamb's Players to take on the roles of George and Martha for Intrepid Theatre.
"I've gotten comments from people, 'Oh oh, how can you do that?' Or, 'Oooh I have to come see the two of you do this together," Robert Smyth said during an early rehearsal. "Because of our relationship it has piqued other people’s interest in a married couple doing that particular married couple."
Director Christy Yael-Cox said she "was really interested in finding people that I thought could not only handle the language, mine the humor for all it’s worth, but could also come from that place of love and it helps that they are married."
Because ultimately she firmly believed that underneath all the yelling, fighting and insults, Albee’s play is a love story.
"It’s a play about a 23-year-old marriage and everything that happens in that and what happens to people who have issues and have pain but also really, fundamentally love each other, really have fought to stay together and will continue to fight to stay together after the play is over," she said.
And having a married couple play George and Martha means they are starting from a place of genuine intimacy.
"They are really comfortable with each other, they trust each other, they have immediate intimacy, and they have all their baggage from their marriage, the good and the bad, and we don’t get into that, it’s still there, it’s still in the room," Yael-Cox added.
Deborah Gilmour Smyth said that the way George and Martha live is not the way she and Robert live, "but it’s an interesting kind of experiment to look at what is it in them that is the glue that holds them together."
But having the trust built over decades of real marriage helps.
"A major factor is the trust so that we can scream and yell and bang on each other and know that it’s OK," she said.
"We know each other so well to begin with so jumping into this kind of aggressive piece is much easier I think when you have that kind of basis," Robert chimed in.
George is a professor at a small college and he's married to Martha, the daughter of the college president. During the course of the play, which takes place in real time during three acts, they have a younger couple join them for late night drinks and the alcohol loosens everyone's tongues and inhibitions. The result is a scathing night of revelations.
Of Martha, Gilmour Smyth said, "She’s been through a lot in her life, she justifies a lot of the, how shall I put it, the self-centeredness that she tends to live in and has a really unique relationship with her husband George in that they really do understand each other but they are witty and sharp and aggressive and I think to the outside world there’s a sense of how could they make it together."
"There’s also a fascinating depth to the piece because underneath as a foundation is a sense of love and care," Robert Smyth said. "I mean these are both really deeply wounded people for very different reasons and they have found a way to care for each other and it just so happens on the night you drop in it’s a really rough day and this is what you experience in the play is not their experience every day."
Albee’s play and the 1966 film (directed by Mike Nichols) caused controversy for its use of obscenity. While certain words seem tame today, it’s how the characters use language to injure other that remains shocking.
"I think it is his ability to use language and emotion as artillery, they’re weapons," Yael-Cox said.
"It’s the brutal honesty and the dig that’s in it, the weaponry that comes out is pretty severe," Smyth said.
"These are highly intelligent, savvy, well-written, charismatic, funny characters and so it becomes this really dynamic certainly at times explosive environment and that is thrilling and it’s thrilling that it’s live theater and that we get to be in the room with them," Yael-Cox said.
You could say this is the perfect Valentine’s Day play for people who’ve had their fill of saccharine romantic confections.
Intrepid Theatre’s "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" runs through March 13 at the Horton Grand Theatre.
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