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War of the Sexes, . . . And of the Worlds

You have to ask, watching Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” why do Nick and Honey stick around for this blood bath? For that matter, why does the audience stick around? Well the answer to the second question is simple. It may be painful to be in their company, but George and Martha are wildly entertaining. Dangerous, unprincipled, remorseless. Yes. But entertaining. And Carl Ritchie, a writer of slight musicals and a theater director who places himself in Noel Coward roles whenever possible, seemed an unlikely choice for the abused and vengeful male lead. But Ritchie was stunning in Aglet Theatre Company’s reading, Saturday, at the Bok Gallery. And so was Laurie Ellington’s Martha, a haridan with a suave and practiced willingness to savage anyone within dagger shot. This is a long play, three hours, three acts, two intermissions, something audiences don’t favor the way they did back in 1962 when “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opened. But this is a tight, lucid and theatrical work, neatly shaped by director Jaime Davidson, the marketing manager for Berkshire Theatre Festival. And it’s devastatingly performed by Ritchie, Ellington, and Conor Fay as the reprehensible Nick, and Amanda A. Lederer as his wife, Honey, who learns a thing or two about life and about her mate in an evening with Martha and George. Which brings us to the first question: Why do Nick and Honey stay for a couple of hours of savagery? Because human beings cannot look away from a human pileup. But this is how George and Martha get from one day to the next. Continuing its series on the war of the sexes, Aglet is presenting August Strindberg’s “Dance of Death” in a staged reading at the Bok Gallery Oct. 22. For tickets, call 860-435-6928 or go to www.aglettheatre.net. Another kind of combat is playing out in Lenox, MA: “The War of the Worlds.”This is not H.G. Wells’s version. Nor is it Orson Welles’s radio version for Mercury Theatre on the Air. This is Shakespeare and Company’s campy production based on Howard Koch’s script for that radio broadcast with a whole lot of S&C schtick and not a whole lot of sense. But no matter. It has its moments. The show in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre is set in a CBS radio studiowhere the Jack Holloway show is warming up the audience (us) with songs (Man of Constant Sorrow, I’ll Fly Away) a continuing saga of “Ace Moran: American Hero,” who stands for “justice, truth, courtesy and all that’s good.” Then, after a lot of quizzes, commercial breaks (including a spiel on “Santaland Diaries,” Shakespeare & Company’s­ next production) and songs the broadcast is interrupted for a special announcement: an invasion from Mars. There’s intense heat, martial law, troops, a national emergency, the singing of “Amazing Grace.” But so much time is spent on jolly radio fare, much of it very entertaining, that it’s difficult to summon up more than passing interest in the invasion from Mars. Still, seeing Elizabeth Aspenlieder and Dana Harrison bopping around the stage makes it all worthwhile. “The War of the Worlds” runs through Nov. 6. Tickets: 413-637-1199.

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