Friday, March 20, 2009

Alchemist's VIRGINIA WOOLF

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Alchemist Theatre opened all the traditional doors for its production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, putting together a pretty solid production. Mark Webber and Sharon Nieman-Kobbert star as older couple George and Martha who play hots to young couple Nick (show’s director Kirk Thomsen) Honey (Liz Shipe.)

The pair of couples duke it out over the course of a set of acts played out over the course of three acts taking place at George and Martha’s place on South Kinnickininic . . . the space at Milwaukee’s Alchemist’s Theatre makes for a relatively small East Coast feel that plays particularly well to those in the first three rows of the theatre. 

Kirk Thomsen , who also direct the show, makes for a particularly sympathetic Nick. This is a guy who was simply invited to a place after a party who would, most likely prefer nothing more than to go home at the end of the evening. The evening has better ideas for itself and Nick and his wife Honey are captured by George and Martha for what ends up being a very difficult series of hours.

Liz Shipe plays Nick’s wife Honey, who has a bit much to drink, locking Nick and herself at George and Martha’s place for a few hors in the late night / early morning hours. It’s a pretty rough night for everyone involved, not the least of which is Honey, who spends most of the evening intoxicated. Shipe does an admirable job as the perpetually intoxicate Honey. It’s not an easy job to bring a character to the stage who does little more than get intoxicated, but Shipe’s performance is respectably clean here.

Mike Weber is intriguing as university professor George. The character has all kinds of room for being a number of different things, but Webber plays it particularly close to the quiet introspection of a university history professor The character has room for being particularly slimy, but Webber plays him as a cold, clinical passive-aggressive type who really seems to care for hi wife . . . remarkably complex work and a really good performance for Weber.

Sharon Nieman-Koebert plays George’s wife Martha. There’s a real faded charm to her performance, particularly in the monologues. Nieman-Koebert powerfully brings across the feeling of someone trapped in a situation that has come to define her life. Very impressive.

Furnished with what appear to be actual ‘60’s period furniture and knickknacks, the set has a real lived-in feel made all the more rich by the use of actual stage lamps for much of the lighting. The environmental feel of the production draws the audience into the cast’s performance, which isn’t always projected with perfect clarity to the entire audience. Individual words re lost in words that aren’t always spoken clearly . . .surprisingly enough, this is actually really effective in making the play feel that much more natural. There’s a lot of anger here, but the cast plays it low throughout much of the production, allowing the power of the language to make its own statement, which keeps the whole thing from ever feeling too overly dramatic. 

The Alchemist Theatre’s
production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Runs through April 4th.

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