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Jungle’s ‘Virginia Woolf’ is mesmerizing theater

Sets can give an idea of what kind of show you are in for, and Bain Boehlke’s creation for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at the Jungle Theater makes it pretty clear what’s about to come.

Sets can give an idea of what kind of show you are in for, and Bain Boehlke’s creation for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” makes it pretty clear what’s about to come. The décor appears to be all made of stone, all the way down to a set of the most uncomfortable looking furniture this side of a medieval torture chamber.

It also leaves plenty of flat surfaces for the characters to rest their drinks, which are never far from the sides of the four characters in Edward Albee’s play, now in a thrilling production at the Jungle Theater.

Over the course of one long, boozy late night, George and Martha do more than just bicker and fight. These two have had more than 20 years of practice on each other. They’ve raised this to the level of high art.

Into this den wander a pair of sacrificial lambs — Nick and Honey —­ newly arrived from the Midwest and completely out of their element in the practiced hatred of the household. The newcomers are bringing plenty of their own baggage into the room, which the older experts are more than willing to uncover and exploit.

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It’s not the most pleasant after-dinner-party party you could visit, but the Jungle production is mesmerizing from the first pours of gin and bourbon. Steven Yoakam and Michelle Barber not only bring out the practiced meanness of their characters, but even occasionally make us sympathize with them despite all of the self loathing. Jane Froiland’s Honey is a young bundle of neuroses, well on her way to the asylum. Sean Michael Dooley brings out the studly confidence of Nick ­ and, of course, his own set of issues (the performance is all the more remarkable when you consider that Dooley was cast as an emergency replacement less than two weeks ago).

Guiding all of this like a conductor is director Boehlke. It’s easy for Albee’s play to descend into a pure hell of bitterness, but Boehlke and the actors keep finding the moments of humor, lightness and even the briefest snatches of humanity that help to make three hours with a rather unpleasant quartet of characters fly, even though you may want a drink after it’s done.

“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” runs through May 30 at the Jungle Theater, 2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis. Tickets are $20-$35. For information and tickets, call 612-822-7063 or visit online