YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


'Delicate Balance' skillfully wrought

September 24, 2007|Philip Brandes | Special to The Times

What to do if your lifelong friend and his wife show up without warning, gripped by an unnamable terror and expecting you to take them in indefinitely? Such is the quandary facing an aging upper-class New England couple who find the boundaries of friendship, family and even their marriage tested in Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance."

If anyone knows about pushing boundaries, it's Albee -- he's made a career of it since "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in 1962. Although "Balance" earned him his first Pulitzer Prize five years later, the play has traditionally languished in the shadow of its oft-staged predecessor.

The well-cast ensemble in James O'Neil's handsomely staged revival for Rubicon Theatre makes a strong bid to reclaim the spotlight for one of Albee's most hauntingly beautiful works.

The biggest challenge is one of pacing. Compared with "Woolf's" eruptions of open marital warfare, the veneer of gentility coating the portrait of a disintegrating family in "Balance" makes the action seem positively glacial. Yet beneath the placid surface and creamy opulence of Gary Wissmann's elegant living room set, darkness gradually but inexorably scrapes away illusions of stability and control.

Preserving those illusions at all cost, imperious matriarch Agnes (Susan Clark) holds her family together through order, propriety and discipline. While others lubricate their lives with a continuous flow of alcohol, Clark's Agnes is every inch the self-proclaimed "drill sergeant" who "keeps things in shape." As doubts gnaw at her in some of the play's most complex and poetic passages, she adeptly handles Albee's precise cadences and pointed meanings.

The trap inherent in writing that's this carefully crafted is lapsing into staginess, and some of these speeches would play better still if they seemed to be escaping from Agnes rather than delivered by her. Still, Clark makes us feel the sacrifice of spontaneity and passion in Agnes' marriage.

As her husband, Tobias, Granville Van Dusen gives a superb performance laced with flashes of hostility darting from behind a passive-aggressive shell. His third-act breakdown in the face of conflicted obligations to family and friends is devastating.

Sterility and impotence, Albee's signature themes, cripple the couple's dreams -- they produce nothing, their son died in infancy, and their daughter, Julia (Stephanie McNamara), 36 and childless, returns to the nest after the dissolution of her fourth marriage.

The truth teller in this fragile cocoon is Agnes' caustic alcoholic sister, Claire, played with impeccable comic timing by Bonnie Franklin.

As the intruding couple, Robin Gammell and Amanda McBroom make between affability and hyper-critical authority, respectively. Though their paralyzing terror is never defined, it infects all with a sense of severed ties to all spiritual and moral anchors that give life meaning. Albee's 40-year-old play has never seemed more timely.


'A Delicate Balance'

Where: Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main St., Ventura

When: 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Oct. 14

Price: $26 to $49

Running time: 2 hours, 50 minutes

Los Angeles Times Articles