WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, Circle Theatre. This searing production of Edward Albee's classic tale of domestic horror makes the audience almost as tense and uneasy as the hapless young couple who unwittingly become participants in George and Martha's all-out war. There you sit in the humble little theater, practically in the middle of the play's well-appointed 60s-style living room, as the battle rages on, until you almost want to excuse yourself like the meek, mousy Honey and go puke in the bathroom, or at least dip into the brandy.
I've never been a fan of Albee's savage, nihilistic hang-the-guts-from-the-chandelier approach to domestic drama: 170 minutes of the Mike Tyson of dramatists can be more than a little grating. But with the exception of an eardrum-shattering opening, which allows the actors little opportunity to build to a climax, and a stagy denouement, I've never seen a better production than this one, directed by Alena Murguia. As George, Greg Kolack is all repressed academic anger, and Patti Paul's Martha is a sort of inverse Gorgon who turns men from stone into limp flesh, a braying terror who somehow manages to be alluring and sympathetic as well. Ample support comes from Bethanny Alexander as the underwritten dip Honey and Jeff Charlton, who excels as her easily corrupted husband Nick, whose blond, blue-eyed opportunism reveal him to be an all-American nightmare. Although I generally side with the Albee character who observes, "Flagellation isn't my idea of a good time," this is the best flagellation you're likely to get anytime soon. --Adam Langer