A dramatic classic: ‘Virginia Woolf’ rocks PACA, Corella and Burns as leads impress

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, September 19th, 2018 at 5:13 PM

The theater is small. Although cramped it is also intimate and comfortable. I recognize nearly the whole audience as Erie theatre veterans. As the lights come up on stage, the audience prepares to view one of the most iconic shows in contemporary American theater. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” opened to a sold-out crowd Friday night at Erie’s Performing Artists Collective Alliance (PACA). 

With a pedigree of three Tony Awards, a Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” sets high expectations for any theater goer. 

While PACA boasts a long history of exceptional productions, a show of this caliber and timing can be daunting for even the most seasoned thespian. However, as the first act came to a close, all hesitations and doubts were washed away. 

Patty Corella and Michael Burns bring an authenticity to their performances as the leads, Martha and George. Through the first act, Corella and Burns play seemingly unlikable caricatures of real people. Corella plays Martha as a bombastic drunk whose only interests are the baser pleasures of life, while Burns portrays George as a small and neurotic homebody who tends to his wife. However, by the final act, Corella and Burns show their true depth as they force the audience to watch them torment a younger couple they’re hosting, Nick and Honey, through a series of tortuous games. 

The highlight of Corella’s performance is during the climax of the third act. With such a small and intimate audience, you have no choice but to watch as Martha begins to fall apart on stage. Her sobs and screams resounded through the whole theatre, finally allowing the audience to truly pity her. Corella’s intensity was perfectly matched by Burns who follows Martha shot for shot, volleying every blow with equal vigor and fire. Little is recognizable from George’s first appearance back in act one. Burns convincingly plays a man who has finally reached his end as the audience watches on.

Not to be overshadowed, Kayla Corwin held her own on stage with these veterans with her portrayal of Honey, a mousy housewife. While Honey is often played off as a mere damsel in distress, Corwin brings true depth and tragedy to the character. Her small demeanor paired well with her onstage husband, played by Grant Miller. Both held great chemistry, but Miller was definitely outshined by Corwin, who’s emotional distress could be felt through every scene she was in. Although her lines were often passed as jokes, her raw intensity and delivery allowed Honey to be the only truly redeemable and sympathetic character in the whole show. 

It is rare for a production with such a small cast to captivate an entire audience; this is even more impressive considering the near three hour length. However, the show as a whole was witty, well-timed, and intense. Tanenbaum delivers once again with his comedic take on this unflinching look at toxic relationships. 

With four performances left, any theatre fan worth their salt should be flocking to this performance. However, viewers be warned, this play does involve sensitive topics such as alcohol, abuse and other violence. 

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” will run through September 21-22, and 28-29 and the show starts at 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and 2pm on Sundays. All performances will be held at the PACA theater, 1505 State St. Tickets are only $15 and can be bought at the PACA box office either in person or by calling ahead at (814) 434-0687. 

Torie Witherow can be reached at ae.spectator@gmail.com.

Tags: arts, theatre

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