A Delicate Balance
Designer Chien-Yu Peng provides floor-to-ceiling bookcases and rich, attractive trappings within Agnes and Tobias's home or estate. Rigid, controlling Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) is steely and precise while her husband Tobias (Edward Herrmann) is a benevolent and very large man who, when in doubt, drinks martinis. Their best friends, another WASP couple, Edna (Kathleen Butler) and Harry (John Carter), have suffered some sort of fright and invite themselves to spend a night or maybe more at Agnes and Tobias's house. Claire (Ellen McLaughlin) lives there, too; and she is petulant, alcoholic and sarcastic. McLaughlin plays the role freely and she commands attention, even if (on opening evening) she seemed to be sniffing quite often. Chalfant and McLaughlin played these parts at the Arena Stage production of this play in winter of 2009. The same actors also appeared in Tony Kushner's Angels in America when it was presented on Broadway during the 1990s.
The delicate balance within the current New Haven show is further disrupted with the arrival of Julia (Keira Naughton), thirty-six, who is about to be divorced for the fourth time. Landing back in the nest once again, she is upset, agitated, and absolutely furious when she finds that Harry and Edna are staying in the room which was always hers.
Albee has written a perceptively intense drama about a dysfunctional American family, and the piece is fully relevant on this very day. His humor is biting and immediately targets people in their sixties who live beneath veneers. All is not well and no amount of liquor will fully camouflage that reality.
Edward Herrmann provides a transcendent performance as a man whose marriage is dry and vapid. He and his wife have separate bedrooms. He adores his daughter yet rages at her. He goes to the bottle far too often and recognizes its destructive potential. Vulnerable and warm, Hermann cuts a sympathetic figure as he personifies Tobias.
Keira Naughton's raw emotions are on display as Julia, a woman whose personal relationships have disastrously come apart. She wants to be perceived as an independent womansome of the time. She hasn't anywhere to go so she returns to her childhood home. Chalfant's Agnes is anything but a nurturing mother.
Bundy allows each layer of A Delicate Balance, which occurs over a period of twenty-four hours, to unfold deliberately. The first act seems particularly lengthy. Yet the director's decision is wise, as editing the script would lessen the impact.
Those living in New England suburbs or, for example, Westchester County, will recognize the interior of this home. One theater patron rhetorically asked, just before the play began several days ago, "Who wouldn't want to live there?"
Agnes wonders, late in the play, whether everyone dislikes happiness. Money could buy this handsome mansion-like home, complete with all the furnishings. These people, though, are struggling for control and, even more poignantly, for survival. Claire is filled with resentment while Julia hasn't any idea of who she is and what the future portends.
Albee's portrayal fully captures time and place in the wealthy suburbs half a century ago. Bundy declares, in the program, that this rendering is contemporary. He is correct: what the playwright depicts retains its relevancenow.
A Delicate Balance continues at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through November 13th. For ticket information, call (203) 432-1234 or visit yalerep.org.