(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 4/29.)
Be warned: the tempestuous marriage between George and Martha contains so many dazzling cruelties and vicious verbal flayings that some of the audience are likely to be lacerated in the crossfire. One lofty put down in the vigorous opening minutes of the Gate’s excellent revival of Edward Albee’s still venomous, still marvellous play from 1962, hits frighteningly close to the bone. “I swear,” Fiona Bell’s restless Martha tells Denis Conway’s fading George, “if you existed I’d divorce you.” The stakes are higher than you might imagine: here people can be made or undone with words alone.
So begins the longest night of their lives, one heaving with wit, desire, humiliation and make-believe, and lubricated with mind-warping quantities of alcohol. George, a stalled academic in a New England college, and Martha, the college president’s daughter, invite a young couple, Nick and Honey, back home for a nightcap.