By Lawrence Frascella
Updated March 17, 2020 at 03:08 AM EDT

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deathwatch is the perfect subject for playwright Edward Albee, who has a definite passion for stripping life down to its essentials. This tough-minded revival of his 1971 work all takes place in one stately bedroom where various friends and relatives (designated merely as the Doctor, the Daughter, etc.) anxiously await the passing of the family’s patriarch. Directed by Emily Mann, the play is plainly staged, but that only serves to keep our focus on the fiery performances, especially those of dueling divas Rosemary Harris (as the cruel, imperious, titanium-haired Wife) and Michael Learned (as the earthy Mistress). Throughout, the characters pontificate, confront their sins, and attack each other with gleaming, knife-sharp wit (an Albee forte). But late in the game, when Harris suddenly releases a bloodcurdling, theater-enveloping scream, all their chatter is revealed to be a desperate cover for what they know is coming, the cataclysmic opening of the abyss that accompanies death. Albee’s play is so cunningly structured and thrillingly confrontational, it leaves the audience dangling emotionally over that edge as the curtain falls.

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