Playwright: Edward Albee. At: City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: PulseTheatreChicago.com; $20. Runs through: Aug. 20
Pour a drink and put in your mouth guard: Theater's most notorious cage matchWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?is back by popular demand.
Pulse Theatre and Director Chris Jackson have succeeded at doing something wonderful and necessary in this often-visited New Carthage living room, however. Theirs is the very rare production that features a diverse cast, with George and Martha portrayed by actors of color. Whether this production flew under the radar of Edward Albee's estate, or they were found to be in line with the author's wishes after some notorious scrutiny, I'd recommend seeing this show early and often, just in case. There's even more to be said for this treatise on the brokenness of white American marriage and success when it is delivered in part by a duo whose outsidership and rejection are implied.
Against their better judgement, history professor George ( Lewis R. Jones ) and wife Martha ( Nicholia Q. Aguirre ), daughter of the university president, have invited guests home from a faculty party. What begins as a late night entertaining new professor Nick ( Andrew Zaininger ) and his wife, Honey ( Kate Robison ), quickly escalates to a long-simmering battle that George and Martha keep ratcheting up with new tactics like insults and attempts to seduce the guests. And while Nick and Honey may hope to avoid the venom being volleyed about, they don't stand a chance. The game isn't done for anyone until your darkest secret is laid out on the table, naked to the world.
The actors took a moment to find their sea legs on their inaugural performance, but once deep in Albee's dense language, each brought an amazing voice and physicality to their roles. As Honey, Kate Robison is compellingly bored. She may be certain that the conversation is beyond her, but she steals thunder left and right, just by poking around in her purse. Andrew Zaininger comes in as a Nick so assured of his prowess against the heavyweights that he's spectacularly careless. Nicholia Q. Aguirre holds court as Martha, wailing, gnashing and pressing forward. If she is the the raging storm above, Lewis R. Jones is the quiet sea below. As George, he is just as powerful and consuming, but in a modest frame, like a conniving sloth.
What comes with a groundbreaking first portrayal of a non-white George and Martha is a new perspective on power dynamics. The privileges that Nick and Honey enjoybeing young, entitled and unbothered with the institutions they participate inare in starker contrast when you remember these are not necessarily "givens" for their unhinged hosts. You can't help being a monster if you caught in an corrupt machine.