Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
A Delicate Balance
Also see Susan's review of Is He Dead?
A Delicate Balance is an elliptical drama of existential terror in the comfortable suburban home of Tobias (Terry Beaver) and Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), long-married members of the WASP upper middle class. They are a reserved couple, even around each other, which makes the plain speaking of Agnes' hard-drinking sister Claire (Ellen McLaughlin), who lives with them, seem especially outrageous. The delicate balance of Tobias' and Agnes' lives is threatened when their daughter Julia (Carla Harting) returns home after the collapse of her fourth marriage, and their friends Harry and Edna (James Slaughter, Helen Hedman) flee their own home because of an intangible fear.
Albee's skill is in conveying an undertone of menace even though his characters rarely raise their voices. Agnes ruminates about the possibility that she is losing her mind; Tobias recalls his reactions to a cat he once had; and Harry and Edna do their best to hold themselves together as they try to explain the inexplicable. Claire livens things up, speaking out of turn and being the only intentionally funny person in the group. The alcohol never stops flowing through the entire three acts.
Chalfant dominates every scene in which she appears with quiet authority, Beaver does well as a man who has spent his life covering up his true feelings, and McLaughlin makes the most of her opportunities to act out.
Todd Rosenthal's highly detailed scenic design and Allen Lee Hughes' lighting bring the audience into the terribly tasteful living room of Tobias and Agnes, all built-in bookshelves filled with leather-bound books and artworks in muted colors. The costume design by Ilona Somogyi offers a clear delineation of the characters: classic tailored outfits for the two patrician couples, livelier colors and styles for outspoken Claire and fraught Julia.