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'Albee?' Dares to Go Above Subtext, Rumors

July 02, 1999|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Everyone gets a chance to chomp the scenery in "Who's Afraid of Edward Albee?" Michael Kearns' original drama at Glaxa professes to examine the gay subtexts in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" However, somewhere along its careening route, the play veers, intentionally or not, into parody. Whatever Kearns' dramatic intent, this sprawling exercise in excess is consistently fascinating, as watchable as a train wreck and as feverishly histrionic as a Joan Crawford film festival.

An underground controversy has long raged over whether Albee intended his famously vitriolic drama as a drag piece for four male performers. For years, Albee has denied such rumors--and refused requests to allow his work to be performed by an all-male cast.

Kearns dodges the legal issues by setting his play backstage in a small Hollywood theater, midway through the run of an all-male version of Albee's classic.

Martha (Scott Utley) despises his recently deceased mother, an abusive wanton who sparked her son's contempt--and possibly his murderous rage. Soap star Nick (Dean Howell) uses his machismo as a smoke screen to conceal his true sexuality. Vulnerable Honey (Noel Alumit) is having an affair with the ostensibly straight Nick. And the kindly George (Rob Sullivan), a happily married daddy-to-be, may have a shocking surprise in store.

Kearns' characters are intended to mirror Albee's, but, in Mark Bringelson's sketchy staging, Kearns' replicants are a far cry from the originals. Instead of a passive sadist, George is a cipher, avuncular and null. And Martha is a stereotype whose psychological games are more therapeutic than destructive. But, despite its flaws, the play addresses profound issues of gay self-loathing and loneliness. And when Martha flounces on, in full leather regalia, we roar at the sheer audacity.

*

* "Who's Afraid of Edward Albee?," Glaxa Studios, 3707 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends July 24. $15. (323) 960-7756. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.

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