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Release: June 9, 2000

UI Iowa Summer Rep's Albee festival opens with 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' June 22

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," the most famous play by three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Edward Albee, will open Iowa Summer Rep 2000's "Making Waves: An Edward Albee Festival" at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 22 in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. June 22-24; at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. June 25; at 8 p.m. June 27 and 28; at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. July 2; at 6 p.m. July 4; and at 8 p.m. July 5, 6 and 9.

In the Tony Award-winning "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" George and Martha are a tormented, hard-drinking academic couple who draw Nick and Honey, a pair of bright newcomers, into the well-practiced game of harrowing and wickedly funny verbal abuse that circles the barren core of their lives. George and Martha's vitriolic bickering is clearly a familiar pattern, but on this night it escalates into a no-holds-barred "total war" that shatters the carefully constructed fantasy they have erected to shield themselves from reality.

"The dialogue in 'Virginia Woolf' -- probably some of the most brilliant in the 20th century -- serves as a mask of protection for the characters' lost hopes and dreams," says director Mary Beth Easley, a Summer Rep veteran and a former faculty member of the UI department of theatre arts.

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" provoked a storm of controversy when it premiered in 1962. With a combination of lively wit and visceral drama, Albee explosively articulated a growing cultural undercurrent that questioned the traditional values of the "American Dream" -- marriage, family, faith and material success.

In a play for the mainstream commercial theater, Albee employed crude language and an intensity of confrontation considered shocking for the time, and he addressed sexuality unflinchingly, leading some critics to dismiss his work as "dirty-minded" and perverse, at the same time that he was being hailed by others as a new dramatic genius.

The debate was epitomized by that year's Pulitzer Prize, when the committee voted for Albee's play, but the trustees at Columbia University vetoed the choice because the play's frank exploration of taboo subject matter was considered too controversial. And the controversy was only exacerbated when screen icons Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor starred in the gritty 1966 Mike Nichols film -- widely condemned then as scandalous, even with Taylor winning an Academy Award, and now considered one of the major cinematic achievements of the 1960s.

Beginning in the late 1950s, Albee established a reputation for creating dramatic tension while simultaneously voicing serious social criticism, uniting the American realist tradition with the dark wit of European absurdist theater. In addition to "A Delicate Balance" and "Seascape," he won the Pulitzer Prize for "Three Tall Women" in 1994, and his three Pulitzers rank second only to Eugene O'Neill's four. Tony Awards for Broadway productions went not only to "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" but also to "A Delicate Balance."

In 1996, Albee received a Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1997 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

At the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in 1996, Albee was praised for his impact on American drama: "Edward Albee burst into the American theatrical scene in the late 1950s with a variety of plays that detailed the agonies and disillusionment of that decade and the transition from the placid Eisenhower years to the turbulent 1960s. Albee's plays, with their intensity, their grappling with modern themes, and their experiments in form, startled critics and audiences alike while changing the landscape of American drama."

"To me, Edward Albee means power and wit combined in breathtaking ways," says UI department of theatre arts faculty member Eric Forsythe, artistic director of Iowa Summer Rep. "He audaciously jumps into your living room or into your beach party and shakes things up. I can't imagine a more exhilarating roller-coaster ride!"

For many seasons Iowa Summer Rep has pursued a unique focus in American summer theater with its single-playwright, festivals, but last season Iowa Summer Rep also became an Actor's Equity Company, elevating its status as a professional theater company.

Tickets for the Iowa Summer Rep production of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" are $17 ($13 for senior citizens, and $9 for students). Tickets may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Tickets may be purchased at a substantial discount as part of an Iowa Summer Rep subscription package. A $40 package ($31 for senior citizens and $22 for students) also includes the Pulitzer Prize winners "A Delicate Balance," June 29-July 8, and "Seascape," July 11-23.

Hancher box office summer hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays. From the local calling area, dial 335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail at <hancher-box-office@uiowa.edu>.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 335-1158. This line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Iowa Summer Rep ticketholders may complete their theatrical outing with a choice of picnic-box dinners at Eddie's Landing, overlooking the Iowa River. Reservations are required: Call 319-335-3105. Orders must be received before 5 p.m. one day in advance. Reservation forms are available at the Hancher box office or the Department of Theatre Arts. Reservations may also be placed on the World Wide Web at <www.imuis.uiowa.edu/food/sumrep>. Picnics are available for 8 p.m. performances only, and will be available for pick-up at 6 p.m.

For UI arts information, visit <www.uiowa.edu/~uiowacr>. Learn more about the play at: <http://www.rlc.dcccd.edu/WorldLang/English/mah8420/Albee-Woolf-Notes.htm#Author>.