I knew that this was going to be intense. I had invited friends to see it with me, and we had seats in the middle of the front row, south side of the "theatre in the square" at the Mary Moody Northen Theatre. After Michelle Polgar had dedicated the opening night's performance to the memory of Oscar Brockett, that grand old man of Austin theatre, the lights began to fade and I had a feeling similar to that you get when you light the fuse on a fistful of firecrackers and throw them down.
My usual view is that a cinema version of the text is irrelevant to the stage performance, but here I have to admit that in any staging of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? the ghost of Richard Burton and the presence of Elizabeth Taylor roil fitfully about the set. The movie rating code had just been instituted when Mike Nichols' film was released in 1966. The MPAA had relented after a couple of minor revisions of the dialogue and gave it a "suggested for mature audiences" rating. In my town meant that you had to be 18 years of age to get in, unless accompanied by a parent. My father, a secret movie buff, insisted that I see it and he stood behind me as my 17-year-old self bought my ticket.
Thirteen Academy award nominations, including for Nichols as director and all four in the cast, with five wins, including Taylor as the monstrous Martha and Sandy Dennis as an unforgettably inebriated bubble-blowing little wife. So how can a contemporary theatrical production stand up to that?
The answer in Austin is simple but three-fold: by playing to an audience predominantly of college students who do not know the film; by enlisting Babs George for the role of Martha and Ev Lunning Jr. for the role of George; and with Christie Moore's tight direction in Leilah Stewart's starkly effective, almost claustrophobic set.