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Get ready to laugh, think at ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’

October 21, 2016

In an early scene in Edward Albee’s play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” George, a longtime history professor, describes his tenure as “dashed hopes and good intentions.”

Is this what happened to the American Dream? It’s no coincidence that the dysfunctional lead couple in the play is named George and Martha. Albee, who died in September, said the play is about “who’s afraid of living life without false illusions.”

Sarah Butts, longtime director at Venture Theatre, returned to Billings to bring one of the most heralded American plays to the Black Box Theatre at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts. Sacrifice Cliff Theatre is producing the play at the urging of Craig Huisenga, who plays George. George is one of the most difficult roles in theater in the English language with more lines than the title role in “Hamlet.”

The last time “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” was performed in Billings was in 1981 at Billings Studio Theatre.

Sacrifice Cliff Theatre actors Craig Huisenga and Dina Brophy portray George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” which opens Oct. 21 at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts.

At almost three hours long, the production will have two intermissions during the play, which opens Oct. 21 and runs three weekends through Nov. 5. For tickets or show times, call 672-9291 or email sacrificecliff@gmail.com.

Dina Brophy plays Martha and Caitlin Hart plays the young faculty wife, Honey, and Shane McClurg plays her husband Nick. The cast, already familiar with each other, has become even closer during the rehearsal process because the show is so intense, Butts said.

The production will be performed in the round with two rows of seats surrounding the stage. That way the audience will be able to feel the intensity of the scenes.

“You are in the battle zone,” Butts said. “People should expect the unexpected.”

Brophy, a veteran actor who performed in “August: Osage County” and “Gidion’s Knot,” said the show is a tremendous opportunity for local actors to shine.

“To have an even level of commitment and passion from the entire cast is extraordinary,” she said.

Sacrifice Cliff Theatre actors Craig Huisenga and Dina Brophy portray George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” which opens Oct. 21 at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts.

The rehearsals can be so draining, the cast and director are exhausted at the end, but happy with the work, Butts said.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1963 and was short-listed for a Nobel Prize for Literature, but the language and the sexuality of the show were too controversial at the time. To honor the playwright, though, no Nobel Prize was given for literature that year. Butts advised that the production would be considered the equivalent of a PG-13 rating today.

The depth of the themes and the richness of the language are what make this production so strong, Butts said.

“He believed art should teach us, illuminate us,” she said.

Huisenga points out that while the production is intense, there is also some great humor in it. The movie, featuring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, was darker than the play and much of the humor is lost in it.

“It’s hysterically funny in places, and it gets really, really intense,” Huisenga said.