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Still asking questions after 50 years
By Andrew Chin

WHEN it debuted on Broadway in late 1962, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" shocked audiences with its frank content.

Awarded the 1963 Tony Award for Best Play and stripped off its 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Drama on grounds of obscenity, the classic piece of American theater will be making its Shanghai debut on March 22 at Sasha's, produced by Urban Aphrodite.

Written by award-winning playwright Edward Albee, the play follows a late-night round of drinks with middle-aged married couple, George and Martha, sucking their guests, Nick and Honey, into the twisting melodrama of their battered relationships.

"The play is daunting because it's such a huge play in contemporary theater," says Texan Kate Robards, who plays Honey. "In my acting classes, they would have selections from the play. If you did them, you had to believe that you were really good."

Robards' stage husband Nick is played by Michigan native John Prakapas. They are joined by Shanghai stage veterans, Mark Edwards (Zooloo Theater's "M Butterfly") and Natasha Portwood (Shanghai Repertory Theater's "Much Ado About Nothing") as the older couple whose turbulent relationship fuels the drama and adds comic bite.

"My favorite line is where George says, 'Martha in my mind you're buried in cement up to your neck,' and then he rethinks it and goes, 'up to your nose. It's quieter'," says Edwards.

The raw look at George and Martha's mutually abusive relationship shocked audiences at the time and its rich characters have proven to be an award-winning showcase for actors.

"George is a multi-faceted role," says Edwards who is from Southampton, Hampshire, in England. "When he finished filming, Richard Burton said he didn't know who he was anymore."

The shadow of Richard Burton and his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor loom heavily around the mystique of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" The 1966 film adaptation starred the couple at the height of their celebrity and is the only film to receive Oscar nominations in every category.

Many speculated that the drama on-screen was similar to their famously turbulent off-screen relationship that ended in two divorces.

The play continues to live on with a recent 50th anniversary production by the acclaimed Steppenwolf theater group wrapping up a six-month run on Broadway this month.

"It's wicked and a lot of it doesn't make sense, which makes it intriguing," explains Prakapas of the play's enduring appeal. "People like to try to figure it out."

For Portwood, its themes are timeless. "It's about relationships and unfortunately most people can relate to those kinds of relationships," says the native of Essex, England.

The Shanghai cast members juggle day jobs with their acting roles. Robards is an account executive, Prakapas a nursing coordinator, Portwood a pre-kindergarten teacher and Edwards a product manager in fashion.

And while "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" has produced numerous acclaimed adaptations, they have made a conscious choice to avoid watching them.

Shanghai audiences are promised an exciting production with some unique touches, including the 1960s set.

"Part of the audience will be sitting on the stage and be part of the environment," explains Urban Aphrodite founder and show director Ann James, from Houston, Texas. "The characters are constantly moving and there's a certain kinetic energy that makes the pace go quicker and keeps the audiences a little bit unsettled. It's kind of a foundation of the disaster of their relationship."

Date: March 22-30 (door opens at 7pm)

Address: 11 Dongping Rd

Tickets: 200 yuan in advance

For more information, check urbanaphrodite.nl.

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164