Edward Albee’s theatrical dark night of the (middle-aged) soul Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? — an epic war of words between an underachieving professor at a small New England college and his slatternly wife, the booze-swilling daughter of the college president — is a fiendishly demanding R-rated four-character drama that requires a crackerjack cast and an expert director who knows how to orchestrate the raw emotions that erupt during the course of a drunken late-night get-together after a faculty party, so that the audience is sympathetic to and not repelled by these boozy, bawdy, larger-than-life characters. It is my great pleasure to report that Raleigh, NC-based Theatre in the Park has both. Oh boy, does it.

Triangle diva Lynda Clark, arguably the best actress in the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill area, and TIP executive and artistic director Ira David Wood III, arguably the best actor in the Triangle, bring great gusto to their roles as Martha the mean mouth, with the hollow leg and the roving eye, and George the malicious mouse that finally roars. But they also subtly shade their characterizations, so that the humanity in these two grotesque characters — the college president’s slutty daughter and her disappointing helpmate, the career associate professor — peeks through at regular intervals.

While Clark is fussing and Wood is fuming, a funny thing happens. The heretofore lesser-known husband-and-wife team of Adam Twiss and Andrea Schulz Twiss, who play Nick and Honey, make their dramatic presence felt. Indeed, the Twisses make George and Martha’s much younger, gently sozzled late-night guests the perfect foils for their verbally and potentially physically abusive hosts.

Nick is a climber in academic circles, and not averse to boffing the boss’ daughter if it will more quickly propel him to the top of the academic ladder. Honey is a frizzy-blonde dingbat, who tricked Nick into marrying her with a hysterical pregnancy. When compared with George’s acid disdain and Martha’s rampaging Id, Nick’s cynical calculation and Honey’s calculated silliness make them formidable adversaries.

That Adam and Andrea Twiss make Nick and Honey more than a mere match for David Wood and Lynda Clark is one of the things that makes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? a must-see drama. The gorgeous set by Stephen J. Larson, the striking costumes by his wife Shawn Stewart-Larson, and the sensitive lighting by Christopher Johnson ALSO provide exceptional production values for a veritable acting clinic brilliantly staged by director David Wood, who brings the show in at just over two hours, including intermission.

Theatre in the Park presents Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Thursday-Friday, April 26-27, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, April 28, at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 29, at 3 p.m. in The Ira David Wood III Pullen Park Theatre, 107 Pullen Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. $19 ($13 students and seniors 55+). 919/831-6058 or via etix @ the presenter’s site. Note: Arts Access, Inc., will audio describe the April 26th show. Theatre in the Park: http://theatreinthepark.com/2006-07_productions/virginia_woolf/virginia.htm [inactive 11/09]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=9341. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061184/.