‘Frightening and exhilarating’ drama ‘Virginia Woolf’ to open Thursday at ALT
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by Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Amarillo actress Heather Manderson is terrified by her latest role with Amarillo Little Theatre.
In a good way.
Manderson – last seen as an adulterous boss in “The Mercy Seat” and, before that, as the viciously lacerating matriarch in “August: Osage County” – will mark another colossal role off her bucket list when ALT opens its production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on Thursday in the ALT Adventure Space, 2751 Civic Circle. The Edward Albee drama runs through April 17.
Manderson stars opposite ALT stalwart Don Washburn as Martha and George, a bitter, middle-aged couple who draw in a younger couple (Michael Froschheiser and Marlee Wall as Nick and Honey) into their web over the course of one drunken night.
Martha – who has been played by the likes of Uta Hagen, Elizabeth Taylor (in an Oscar-winning role), Kathleen Turner and Amy Morton – is a dream role for Manderson, but she said she took it on with some trepidation.
“I read the play when I was probably too young to read it,” Manderson said. “I remember thinking that if I was ever that old, this is the kind of part I would like to pay … but I never, ever thought I would get to be that old.
“It’s just terrifying from an actors’ standpoint to do well, and doing it with Stephen (Crandall) as my director is possibly the only scenario I could imagine feeling good enough to do it in,” Manderson said of her “Mercy Seat” co-star. “It’s like a trust fall, and I don’t have very many people on my list I’d play that game with.”
Crandall, a West Texas A&M University theater professor who’ll be the art, theater and dance department head beginning in the fall, said he, too, has been fascinated by the play for several years.
“The characters themselves and their relationships are very bold,” Crandall said. “I just feel they’re vivid people, and I think the whole alcohol-ridden game-playing conflict of the play’s action is really both frightening and exhilarating to watch.”
As the drama opens, history professor George is surprised to learn that his wife, who is the daughter of the president of the college, has invited the younger couple to their home for a drink. Though Nick, a biology professor, and Honey are initially horrified by the blistering abuse George and Martha heap upon one another, they stay and drink, drawn further into the elder couple’s miasma of mockery and manipulation.
“The levels, the language – it’s just tremendous,” Washburn said. “It’s the only play I’ve ever done where every word – every word – is sculpted out of (expletive) stone and yet it moves like a Ferrari. The language is absolutely fascinating.”
Though the younger couple is horrified in the drama, the actors portraying them are effusive with their praise of their co-stars.
“I’ve never acted with people with so much experience,” said Wall, a WT student. “I’ve learned so much by watching them.”
Froschheiser agreed: “Oh my gosh, it’s an awesome experience working with Heather and Don. I find myself trying to absorb as much as I can from them. I feel like a novice next to them.”
Crandall said his actors should be exhausted by the “emotionally … physically draining” drama. So, too, might the audience.
But, Crandall said, “I hope that the truth that is shown, the different shades of humanity that are present, the ability to witness and be a voyeur into this very dark world of these two couples (will make the audience) enjoy the fact that it’s kind of exhilarating to witness that much conflict for that amount of time and wonder what’s going to come out of this.”
“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” will be staged at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and April 14 to 16 and 2:30 p.m. April 10 and 17 in the Amarillo Little Theatre Adventure Space, 2751 Civic Circle. Tickets are $19 for adults, $16 for seniors and students and $13 for children Thursdays and Sundays, and $21 for adults, $19 for seniors and students and $15 for children Fridays and Saturdays. Call 806-355-9991.