Sierra Cinemas presents NT Live Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ |

Sierra Cinemas presents NT Live Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

John Deaderick
Special to The Union

Conleth Hill and Imelda Staunton star in the National Theatre Live production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The play is presented locally at Sierra Cinemas.

How would this impressive British cast, in this most American of plays, headed by the incomparable Imelda Staunton, handle the not-so-nuanced expressions of envy, viciousness, rage, attack and counter-attack?

Edward Albee's 1962 extraordinary work explores love and hate, truth and illusion, sex as a weapon.

History professor George and wife Martha host newly employed Biology teacher Nick and wife Honey for a late night after party. Prior to the younger couple's arrival, we catch a glimpse of George and Martha's hectoring style of banter. It's quite funny, literate, and a touch savage. One feels more than a little uncomfortable bearing witness. And that's only the beginning.

Then Nick and Honey enter the fray, as lambs stepping into an abattoir. These apparent innocents have no idea of their coming initiation into the rituals of their hosts. The night wears on and on and the alcohol flows and flows and the dialogue spirals to shocking intensity. Secrets are revealed, lies are told, lies are exposed and the game playing reaches explosive force. A genuine masterpiece, Virginia Woolf requires masterful performances. The technical and emotional demands on each of the four actors are indeed extreme. Imelda Staunton as Martha ("I do not bray!") and Conleth Hill as the beleaguered George stun us with the truth of their despair.

Staunton's Martha explodes with furious energy in an amazing tour de force. Conleth Hill (Game of Thrones' Lord Varys) supplies George with powerful weapons of his own. Hill seems to fit perfectly in George's skin in a triumph of natural acting. Imogen Poots as Honey ("Never mix, never worry!") and Luke Treadaway as Nick are suitably outmatched by their hosts. Only Treadaway (so brilliant in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime) seems inauthentic, miscast. The British actor's American accent wanders all over the geography.

You may have seen the highly regarded film of this play directed by Mike Nichols and starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. I find it riveting, but be aware that Albee hated it. It wasn't funny enough for him.

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Full disclosure: I directed Virginia Woolf for The Foothill Theatre Company "back in the day" with a terrific set by the late genius Ralph Fetterly and an amazing Martha performed by the also departed Janis Jablecki. I wish I could have watched NT Live's astounding version with them; it would have sparked such lovely conversation.

John Deaderick is a local theatre artist and the author of Make Sweet the Minds of Men: Early Opera and Tragic Catharsis, available at


WHO: Sierra Cinemas Presents

WHAT: National Theatre Live: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

WHEN: Wednesday, May 24 at 3:30 p.m.

WHERE: Sierra Cinemas, 840 E. Main St., Grass Valley

TICKETS: $18 Adults, $15 Seniors, Children 12 and under & students with ID; Available online at or at the Sierra Cinemas Box Office

INFO:, 530-477-9000

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