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Monday May 10th

Veteran professors play dueling spouses in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’

Profile pictures of Roy Dooley and Julie Fishell
Buy Photos Profile pictures of Roy Dooley and Julie Fishell

Ray Dooley and Julie Fishell don’t recall ever being married.

Maybe once, Fishell says, but she poisoned him early on.

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Time: Tues. through Sun. Nov. 30 to Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m. with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday
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Beginning tonight, Dooley and Fishell will take the Paul Green Theatre stage as George and Martha, the dysfunctional husband-and-wife pair leading Edward Albee’s award-winning play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

The two 20-year PlayMakers Repertory Company veterans have appeared together a handful of times on stage. Their turn as George and Martha will be one of the few in which they play battling leads.

The characters, who Fishell called “Everests of American theater,” have been married for 23 years. They host a young couple at their home for drinks and put their changing relationship on display through a progression of stunts and arguments.

Dooley said he and Fishell have developed a sort of shorthand in their years together that lends itself perfectly to tackling a piece like “Virginia Woolf.”

“When you work with someone you don’t know, it takes more time,” he said.

McKay Coble, PlayMakers’ costume designer and chairwoman of the Department of Dramatic Art, came to the company in 1987, only a few years before Dooley and Fishell. Having watched the two actors for years, she echoed Dooley’s sentiment.

“If you’re forever changing partners, it’s hard to hit your stride,” she said. “If you’re working with the same people, you can set new goals for yourself.”

Dooley and Fishell were both trained in classical drama, Dooley at the American Conservatory Theater and Fishell at the Juilliard School.

Both said that PlayMakers has offered them one of few chances to have steady careers as classical actors.

“To have an artistic home where there’s a continuity of work but a variety of experiences, we stay in the same place, but things are changing,” Dooley said.

They each also teach classes, Dooley graduate students and Fishell undergraduates. The ability to teach by example, Dooley said, is something that not many programs offer as intensely as UNC does.

“We are actors who teach acting, not directors who teach acting or acting teachers who don’t act,” he said.

Joseph Haj, producing artistic director for PlayMakers, said he chose to make “Virginia Woolf” a part of the 2011-12 PlayMakers season with Dooley and Fishell in mind.

“It’s the right actors at the right times in their life,” he said.

“Virginia Woolf” won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1963, but was denied a Pulitzer Prize when the board said it wasn’t “uplifting” enough.

But Fishell said the script is actually funny, in its own, dark way. George and Martha continuously build on each other, examining life, death, love and loss by saying and doing things Fishell said few would believe.

The play — three acts and nearly three hours long — is a never-finished exploration, Dooley said.

“There’s a sense of incorporating the audience into our rehearsal,” he said. “They’re not going to come to a finished product.”

Fishell said the play, which she called a “boxing match,” allows them to keep evolving because it goes on for so long.

It then becomes a question of stamina, Dooley said.

Coble, who is not designing for “Virginia Woolf,” said she has seen one rehearsal moment. In the scene, Dooley and Fishell were yelling at each other in one of George and Martha’s many heated moments.

“It was terrifyingly real,” she said. “And then they both stopped, and they laughed. They really are George and Martha fighting with each other, and Ray and Julie working with each other.”

Fishell said that, though the roles are taxing, she is comfortable bearing them with Dooley.

“I know if I jump, he’s going to catch me,” she said. “And if he doesn’t, I know where his office is.”

Contact the Arts Editor at arts@dailytarheel.com.

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