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Pamela Reed adores Albee's maniacal Martha

"Who's Afraid of Viginia Woolf?" in Seattle stars veteran character actress.
Pamela Reed, photo courtesy of Seattle Rep.

Edward Albee’s best-known play poses the question “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” But for the audience, it’s more a question of who would be the worse dinner party guest, George or Martha.

Both sides of this battling couple are the hosts from hell, but they are also the quintessential married sparring team. First played by Uta Hagen and Arthur Hill in the 1962 Broadway premiere and forever associated with real-life couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who played the pair in the 1967 movie, there’s something about this quarreling twosome that attracts top talent.

“There is one thing that any actor walking into this role can count on, you’ll never be bored,” said Pamela Reed, who plays Martha at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. “Martha is very funny, sexy, dumb, wise, and shallow. She encompasses so many perspectives. It’s heaven for an actor.”

Reed has played many different characters on stage, television, and movies, including the reoccurring part of the fairly acidic Marlene Griggs-Knope, mother of Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) in the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation.”

“Marlene started out as meaner,” Reed noted. “But they toned her down. I loved it when she was a tough mom, but that didn’t really work for the comedy over the long run. There’s an entirely different perspective when you’re going for several seasons. I really respect Amy Poehler for taking the long view and for creating a show with great balance.”

But with the theater, a writer can write for a big dramatic payoff at the end of the evening, and that can be a different kind of reward for the actor, added Reed, who currently lives part-time in California and part-time in the Northwest. “I’m deeply grateful that I can pursue theater here. I had to make some decisions and not go to Los Angeles (this spring) so I could do this run at the Rep. The theater here is first class.”

Reed was delighted to be partnered with Seattle Rep regular R. Hamilton Wright, who plays her George. “I’ve always wanted to work with Bob (Hamilton Wright),” she said.

Rounding out the cast are Aaron Blakely (Nick) and Amy Hill (Honey) as the couple trying to survive the war of words waged by their hosts.

“Aaron is a real class act,” said Reed, “and Amy just edges forward in a role that could be dismissed as a mouse. She brings it center stage.”

Making Albee’s tongue-twister and emotional roller coaster of a play work takes a team on stage, Reed emphasized. “It’s a big fat play with just four characters, so you have to work with actors who are fully armed and fully open. I can’t imagine not feeling love for this cast.”

Although the Tacoma native has been busy on Seattle stages in recent years, this is her first appearance in a speaking role at the Rep.

Back in her days as a drama student at University of Washington, “you were expected to do background roles at the Rep,” she recalled. Among those non-speaking parts was the Player Queen in “Hamlet” with Christopher Walken as Hamlet. “The best Hamlet that I’ve ever seen,” said Reed.

Now she gets to spend the evening being just about as verbal as an actor can get as Martha. “When I went to University of Washington and lived in the Queen Anne neighborhood, I remember saying that I’m going to play this role some day. And here I am, back at the bottom of Queen Anne, playing Martha.”

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“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opens tonight (April 23) at the Seattle Rep’s Bagley Wright Theatre and continues through May 18. Information about tickets and times can be found at the company’s website.