Edward Albee's 1966 Pulitzer Prize winning play "A Delicate Balance" opened this past weekend at the McCarter Center in Princeton. This is the now classic study of a privileged, but highly dysfunctional American family.
In the hands of Director Emily Mann (also McCarter's Artistic Director) "A Delicate Balance" is a truly outstanding production. First, the play itself may have been written in the 1960s, but the story of regret over past decisions, emotional insecurities, missed opportunities, loss of a loved one and the extent of friendship is timeless. The strained family situation in 1966 still rings true in 2013.
Then second, there is the matter of the cast....exceptional...marvelous....superb.... are just a few adjectives which apply to all. The cast includes two-time Obie Award-winner and Tony nominee Kathleen Chalfant as the domineering Agnes and Tony Award-winner John Glover as her retired businessman husband of 40 years, Tobias. They live a very comfortable suburban life centered around their country club and the family martini shaker.
The other permanent member of the household is Agnes', 50 or 60 something, unmarried alcoholic, sister Claire, who resides with them at the generosity of Tobias. She probably is most aware of the origins of the constant emotional turmoil between sister, brother-in-law, their four-times married daughter Julia and herself.
Playing Claire, the wit of the family, who is almost always tipsy is two-time Tony nominee Penny Fuller. Claire insists she is not an alcoholic but rather a willful drinker. Daughter Julia who has returned home after her fourth failed marriage is played by Francesca Faridany.
Whenever any two of them are in the same room, in the plays case, the handsome living room, verbal fireworks follow. All four in the same room produce a pyrotechnic display worthy of Macy's Fourth of July extravaganza or that other dysfunctional couple from Albee’s other huge Broadway hit "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Oil is added to the fire when Agnes and Tobias's best friends, Edna and Harry arrive "to stay." Seems they are frightened in their own home and assume their best friends will accept them willingly into their household on a permanent basis. Their claim to Julia's old bedroom keeps her in an almost constant state of hysterics Playing this duo are Roberta Maxwell as Edna and James A. Stephens as Harry.
Each of the six members of the cast are excellent, with Kathleen Chalfant, John Glover and Penny Fuller truly outstanding in the lead roles. John Glover's (and the play's) great moment comes in the third act when he cracks up and delivers what Albee refers to as Tobias' aria.
Some of the relationship difficulties and emotional expressions of the play may resonate uncomfortably with those of us who are of a certain age. Albee's response (from a past interview) "If I wrote plays about everyone getting along terribly well, I don’t think anyone would want to see them. . . . You have to show people things that aren’t working well . . . in the hope that people will make them work better."
“One of the great joys of my life is having a working relationship with Edward Albee,” says director Emily Mann. "My admiration and respect for him is unshakeable. It’s an incredible privilege to be working on Edward’s masterpiece with him still here and very, very, clear in his needs, feelings, and desires for the place. He and I don’t mince words with each other. We’re honest with each other. We respect each other. We have a good banter, a good relationship, and also I learn so much from him. "A Delicate Balance" is one of the greatest American plays.”
For the third outstanding part of the production... credit Emily Mann's production team for providing a visual treat. To begin, the set by Daniel Ostling is most impressive...clearly the home of wealthy country clubbers, spot-on costumes by Jennifer von Mayrhauser and very effective lighting by Lap Chi Chu. The casting director is Laura Stanczyk and production stage manager Alison Cote.
The play is in three acts (two intermissions). Total time with intermissions is about three hours. It is presented in the very comfortable, stadium seating Berlind theatre.
You have until February 17 to see this most remarkable production. This is superior theatre at every level. Next stop Broadway?
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio January 30, 2013
Tickets for Edward Albee’s "A Delicate Balance" range from $20-$65, and are available online at www.mccarter.org, by phone at (609) 258-2787, and in person at the McCarter Theatre ticket office (91 University Place, Princeton). Student and group rates are also available.
McCarter Theatre Center is easily accessible by car via US Route 1, Interstate 95/295, and NJ Route 206. Or take the train to McCarter: New Jersey Transit serves Princeton Junction via the Northeast Corridor Line. Then it’s a ride of four minutes on New Jersey Transit’s “Dinky” train to Princeton Station. McCarter is directly across the street at 91 University Place.