A Delicate Balance
Also see Fred's review of I Do, I Do!
Agnes (Maureen Anderman) and Tobias (Jonathan Hogan) are a well-to-do couple in their late fifties. Living in separate rooms, they are maintainers. Agnes does, however, wonder if she will go mad. On the other hand, she defines herself as a person in control. Claire, Agnes's sister, who is audacious and oftentimes on the verge of being drunk, happens to live with them. Although Claire claims to be an outsider who observes others, she is, in reality, anything but. Claire, for example, twists her attractive body on the center stage red sofa. During the course of the proceedings, she expresses her opinions without the slightest reservation.
Edna (Mia Dillon) and Harry (Keir Dullea), best friend couple to Agnes and Tobias, suddenly appear, explain they are frightened (of what?) and mount the stairs to settle in the room formerly occupied by Julia (Mia Barron), daughter of Edna and Harry. Julia, divorced three times and in the midst, quite probably, of her fourth break-up, comes home. She is thirty-six years of age and her childhood bedroom represents, to her, stabilitybut Edna and Harry have taken her room. Julia tosses a mighty fit and at one point screams, "I want ... what is mine!" Given the repressed nature of conversation and reluctance to disclose honest emotion amongst her parents and their friends, Julia is refreshingly open with her needs and desires. Yes, she's a psychological mess, but she is direct and her disclosure contrasts with the subtlety of the elder generation. Julia sees Claire as a potential ally and this works for a while.
Tobias, at the outset, speaks in a monotone and chooses to circle rather than confront a circumstance. Albee, though, ultimately allows Tobias dimension and development. Tobias might have had an affair with Claire and he definitely has been extra-marital. Ultimately, it is he and not Edna who addresses friendship. Previously, he has been tolerant of: his wife with whom he hasn't slept in ages; and their off-the-wall daughter. Tobias restrains himself during early moments to keep the peace but he must become proactive in the end. He does so and facilitates equilibrium, or A Delicate Balance.
Albee wrote Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? four years before A Delicate Balance and it's a pleasure to report that these two plays are quite dissimilar. As rendered at at Berkshire Theatre Festival, A Delicate Balance grows in complexity as it evolves. An overarching question involves appearance and reality. Albee paints surface colors upon his players but richer hues gradually emerge.
Thematically, the play speaks to the issue of survival. Agnes and Tobias, decades before, lost a child. Julia cannot navigate a successful relationship with a man. Claire has already passed her childbearing years and is glib, outrageous, sometimes funny, and almost always alcoholic. Tobias is much more intense than during early moments. Agnes hopes for lack of conflict but Tobias is able to step up when necessary. Tobias appears to be a man content upon serving everyone else drinks as Agnes pontificates. Later, he is the pivotal one.
David Auburn is probably best known for writing the script for Proof which won the Pulitzer Prize and three Tony Awards. He understands Albee and he allows this production to unfold its complexities. R. Michael Miller's set is, in a word, handsome. The furnishings look good and that helps promote a likely atmosphere. Dan Kotlowitz adjusts his lighting to match different times of the day. That is most evident in an early morning scene transpiring late in the play.
Berkshire Theatre Festival has assembled a high quality cast. Anderman, Hogan, Emery, and Barron excel. Dillon and Dullea are also highly skilled but Albee doesn't give them as much to say.
There's much verbiage to A Delicate Balance and it could otherwise become long-winded. The Berkshire Theatre Festival presentation, on the contrary, grows more and more inviting throughout. It's not an easy play but the production is most rewarding.
A Delicate Balance continues at Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through September 4th. For ticket information, call (413) 298-5576 or visit berkshiretheatre.org.