Triad Stage opens its 19th season with a classic American play that takes a sometimes funny, sometimes painful and often unsettling look into married life.

Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” tells the story of two couples who meet at a university faculty party and return to the older couple’s home for a drink. That couple, George and Martha, soon spill their most intimate secrets and the bitter feelings that exist between them. The young couple, Honey and Nick, learn just how manipulative George and Martha can be. The play will run through Sept. 29 at Triad Stage.

Triad Stage Founding Artistic Director Preston Lane has loved “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” since he was a kid, when he would check out a recording of the play from the Watauga County Library. He said the play is often misunderstood as a story exclusively about anger and marital hostility.

“It’s filled with a lot of amazing language and dialogue,” Lane said. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” is full of humor, he said — much of it of the biting variety. In fact, Lane loves this particular play so much that he also is directing this production.

He describes the Triad Stage production as putting the audience “outside the window peeking in on this party we weren’t invited to — and probably are glad we weren’t!”

To bring this vision to life, especially for a play that is considered so challenging for its performers, he felt he needed actors he knew well for the roles of George and Martha. So he turned to Mark Boyett and Brandy Zarle, veteran stage actors who have performed at Triad Stage numerous times. Triad Stage newcomers Rhiannon Ross and Mickey Theis will step into the roles of Honey and Nick.

“I’ve always been drawn to this play. These characters are bigger than life,” Zarle said. Twenty five years ago, she was cast as Honey in a production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” but she said Martha was on the short list of characters she felt she had to play.

“It’s my chance to give my take on it,” Zarle said.

Boyett has similar feelings for the play. He said when he saw “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on Broadway, he loved it so much he went back later in the same week.

“I couldn’t believe how funny it was,” Boyett said. “The dialogue just crackles along. I was thrilled to have this opportunity.”

Lane noted that the stage production is different from the film version (which starred Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor). In fact, the current stage production is different from the stage version most theatergoers have seen. Albee did a substantial rewrite of the play in 2005 — more than 40 years after originally writing the script — and that is the version that Triad Stage is working from.

Lane, Boyett and Zarle all agree that despite their dysfunction and even their cruelty to each other, George and Martha are human characters whom the audience can sympathize with and even relate to on a certain level.

“Ultimately, it is a love story,” Lane said. “Two people have to either let go of their love or find a way to recommit.”

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