Six takeaways from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?,” playing at the Performing Artists Repertory Theatre in the Crossroads Mall through this weekend:

1. More than many plays, this classic requires just the right cast. That probably makes it hard for many community theaters to produce, but director Gordon Cantiello did it.

“Virginia Woolf” has a searing, caustically funny and carefully crafted script by superstar playwright Edward Albee. George, a professor, and Martha, daughter of the college’s leader, are an older married couple who invite Nick and Honey, a young professor and his childlike wife, to their home after a faculty party. The younger couple has no idea what they’re in for: George and Martha essentially are vipers who aren’t picky about their prey.

Longtime Omaha actors Brent Spencer and Delaney Driscoll, both of whom have appeared in films, play the long-married couple. Their special skill: Keeping you riveted to this difficult story. I didn’t like it, but I was mesmerized. It was like seeing a tornado approach your house from miles away. As Nick and Honey, Mark Booker and Katie Otten are their worthy adversaries. It was fascinating to watch their characters lose their innocence and reveal dark sides.

2. This play would be hard to take from yards away from the stage in a traditional theater. In the close confines of this storefront theater, it’s devastating.

You’re basically in George and Martha’s living room. The set is realistic and cozy — comfy chairs, a loveseat (ironic, given the action), a desk, newspapers strewn about, a well-stocked bar and a mantel decorated with bric-a-brac. But it’s far from comfortable. You are so close that you feel as though you are in the line of fire. Cantiello uses his space to its fullest advantage.

3. Cantiello and his crew sweated the details.

The background music (quiet enough to almost be just a hint of sound), the lighting (illuminating the living room as it would any house in the hours before dawn) and the props (I loved the brandy decanter, the collection of books, the throw pillows).

4. Having said that, it did have a major distraction.

The set had a fireplace with a picture hanging over it, but you could always see a person behind the picture. I don’t know if it was the sound man or the prompter (something I’ve never seen elsewhere in Omaha), but whatever it was, it was always on my mind.

5. With this show, PART continues its string of offering a variety of well-presented programming.

The theater has been successful at staging small musical shows such as “Always, Patsy Cline,” a couple of Frank Sinatra revues, “Beehive” and “Love Letters.” It stretched itself with “I Am My Own Wife” and “Tuesdays With Morrie.” When I heard this was their next show, I thought it might be a step too far. I was wrong.

6. Bottom line: I felt exhausted at the end of the drama, but I wasn’t sorry I’d witnessed it.

I had never seen “Virginia Woolf” before, a major gap in my experience both as a critic and as a fan of the American theater. In program notes, Cantiello says he thinks it’s a love story at its heart, because George and Martha are valiantly (if not civilly) fighting for their marriage. And Albee himself said he thinks the play offers hope “because I make the assumption that it is possible to communicate with other people.”

I didn’t walk away feeling either love or hope, but those viewpoints are certainly something to chew on. This is a raw, honest play, performed by actors who understand that. If you’re used to rainbows and bluebirds, it will rattle you.

But if I were you, I’d see it anyway.

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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