The audience seemed primed for camp, eager to buckle up and relive the roaring-lion performances Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton gave in their 1966 film adaptation of Edward Albee's 1963 play. There were hints of this in the lobby—an unusual number of couples, gay and straight, with cocktail complexions and tobacco coughs who looked as if they'd stumbled there from a piano bar in Palm Springs—but the proof was in their laughter.
They began with gleeful cackles as George (R. Hamilton Wright) and Martha (Pamela Reed) traded their early, familiar barbs. (George: "Do you want me to go around all night braying at everybody, the way you do?" Martha [braying]: "I DON'T BRAY!") But then, as the horror of their domestic dysfunction came into full bloom, each burst of laughter seemed to separate like two-part harmony: some higher and more nervous (as if they hadn't realized what they were in for), some lower and more sardonic (as if they appreciated the play kicking into high gear). The bitter comedy of this production, directed by Braden Abraham, feels much more brutal than the film.
George is an aging history professor married to the harridan daughter of the university's president. The two drink heavily, banter viciously, and hate themselves and everyone else. And who can blame them? Their college town of big egos, tiny achievements, and the narcissism of small differences sounds like a stultifying nightmare.