Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Theatre In The Park
Through April 29

Edward Albee himself said of the title of his most famous play, “‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ means who’s afraid of the big bad wolf … who’s afraid of living life without false illusions.” In a worthy mounting of this American classic, actors Ira David Wood, Lynda Clark, Andrea Schulz Twiss and Adam Twiss make this long, grueling journey into buried memories and drunken recriminations. Undaunted by iconic roles made famous by Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and company, the performers on the Raleigh stage justly serve the play’s “inherent tension between actors and audience,” allowing viewers to breathe as one in response to the actors on stage.

All four characters don such defenses, but the play’s champion of false illusions is Martha, wife of George, an associate professor of history at her father’s university. Clark gives a riveting performance as Martha, and at the end of the play, after answering her husband’s question, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?” with the reply, “I am, George, I am,” she is visibly exhausted as an equally drained audience applauds, all of them with the titular, melodic line ringing in their ears like a fading siren. Megan Stein

Poona the F-Dog
Raleigh Ensemble Players
Through May 5

The proverb goes, “A tree never hits the automobile except in self-defense,” and Jeff Goode’s Poona the F-dog & Other Plays for Children is the party at the scene of the accident. The play is better than Raleigh Ensemble Player’s production, but the ensemble’s synchronous enthusiasm and energy make it a worthwhile way to spend a Friday night. While no one stole the show, several performances stood out, including Jesse Gephart’s sexy Shrub and Chris Brown as God (in a straitjacket), who says “The good people created Evil so they wouldn’t have to pay for air conditioning” while sitting in a church.

There are some catchy musical numbers led by Poona’s hilarious Fairy God Phallus (Brett Wilson), including the tequila song: “It’ll turn anyone from a nun to a whore.” The play is filled both with (relatively) subtle humor (the Fairy God Phallus shrinking and then standing up when Poona pets him) and the more obvious (the aliens, Cunt, and Jasper’s Abbott and Costello bit on PC terms). While the motivation of shock value over wit has a few cameos, Poona the F-dog provides a much-needed voice in today’s world with clever commentary on everything from sex-ed, mass media and consumerism to cyber crime, which is sarcastically described as “far less heinous [a crime] than possession of marijuana or being born black.” Megan Stein

The Illusion
Playmakers’ Rep
Through May 6

The connection between Tony Kushner and 17th-century playwright Pierre Corneille may not be instantly apparent, but one would be hard-pressed to find a text better suited to a Kushner adaptation than Corneille’s The Illusion. A story centering on the conjuring of dramatic illusions, it is an exploration of the nature of theater and theatricality, one of Kushner’s favorite topics. His Tony Award-winning Angels in America constantly references its own unreality through lines about “the magic of the theater” and obvious double-casting.

Joseph Haj’s Playmakers’ production of The Illusion is appropriately filled with such theatrical magic, using fog machines, onstage rain and a striking, imaginative set to frame the story of Pridamont (David Adamson), a lawyer who is shown visions of his estranged son by Ray Dooley’s Alcandre, a cave-dwelling magician. The cave is remarkably realized, with mineral glitter and colored stones dotting the uneven rocks. The sound design complements this setting well, employing manipulated echoes and ambient noise for a suitably spacious effect. The technical virtuosity is down to Haj’s crack design team, the same behind last season’s Cyrano de Bergerac.

Janie Brookshire, as the aristocratic young lady pursued by Pridamont’s son during the three illusion segments, gives a confident and focused performance, particularly in one-on-one scenes. Christopher Taylor, despite a few strong moments, is less consistent as the wayward son. But it is Ray Dooley who grounds the production with his polished, classically English (but never too mannered) turn as Alcandre. His speeches late in the second half regarding the transient nature of all worthwhile thingstheater, for example, or lovelend significant emotional heft in what could easily have been a frothy period piece with some neat effects. Instead, The Illusion is a solidly entertaining piece of theater with a few moments of honest poignancy that will remain vivid for some time after the curtain call. Jack McDonald