Jungle Theater will make you afraid of "Virginia Woolf"

Tuesday night was the opening of the Jungle's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a stunning show in more than one sense of the word. Edward Albee's story of a middle-aged college professor and his acerbic wife was rendered with such force and precision that it is as much an experience, or a ride, as the telling of a tale. 

Martha (Michelle Barber) and George (Stephen Yoakam) are locked into a toxic death-spiral of a marriage. From the opening moments, she's calling him names, bossing him around, and generally getting his goat. For his part, George is the master of the sneaky put-down, as well as the owner of a barely concealed propensity for long-smoldering rage. 

Complicating matters is Martha's father's status as the head of the college where George works; Martha is prone to comparing two two men in her life to one another, a lot, with her husband always suffering in the comparison. 

The play begins at two in the morning, after a faculty party; Martha has invited a young professor and his wife for drinks. And more drinks. Events become increasingly fraught and downright harrowing, with George and Martha's relationship sinking deeper into darkness, and taking the wide-eyed young couple right down with them. 

It's a long show, at more than three hours with two intermissions, but as a theatrical experience it is as intense and vivid as anything you'll find. Audience members in the lobby between acts on opening night approached each other like survivors of a battle--yet there was also an eagerness to get back in, to see what scorched terrain would be covered next. 

Exhausting, punishing, unnerving . . . not the usual terms of description for a great show. But throw in fascinating, compelling, and masterful, and you have an idea what goes on. This is a show that dives unafraid into the darkest recesses of Albee's warped, transgressive script, and emerges with stark truths that insist on being heard, no matter their nastiness. 

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? plays at the Jungle Theater through May 30. For tickets call 612.822.7063 or click here