Mention Edward Albee and the average theatre patron will immediately think of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, and perhaps remark, “Oh yes, he writes about alcoholics.” And didn’t he do that play where the guy talks about the dog’s erection (Zoo Story)? Although he has won multiple Pulitzer prizes and continues, at over 80 years of age, to be a major player in the American theatre, his work is not as well known to the general public as those of his few equals, such as Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller. Yet many critics (and this reviewer) would unhesitatingly assert that he is one of the four giants of American playwriting, along with Williams, Miller and O’Neil.
Albee’s skill is on full display in Aurora Theatre’s excellent revival of his 1966 masterwork, A Delicate Balance. This is a dramatic play structured in the manner of a traditional drawing room comedy, one of many “balances” that the script explores. Life, it is implied, is a delicate balance between the tragic and the comic.
From the opening monologue, Albee’s provocative script begins to tease out the theme of delicate balance as the very proper and tightly wrapped upper-middle-class Agnes (Kimberly King) wonders whether she is likely to someday go insane. In short order, the balance of everything in the lives of Agnes and her family are called into question: her marriage with Tobias (Ken Grantham), her sister Claire’s (Jamie Jones) precarious sobriety, her daughter Julia’s (Carrie Paff) multiple marital failures, and more. The delicate balance of the household is further upset by the arrival of neighbors and best friends Harry and Edna (Charles Dean and Anne Darragh) who announce that they have fled their home due to a vague, unexplained terror, and they are seeking refuge. The audience quickly begins to apprehend the precariousness of the characters’ upper class security, their friendships, their families, even their sanity and how all can be thrown off balance by the reality of the chaos which hides beneath the elegant surface of their lives.
By the end of the evening, the daughter Julia will have threatened the neighbors with a gun, Agnes will confront her unprocessed grief over the early death of her son, drunken Claire will abandon propriety and accompany all of this with a bizarrely inappropriate accordion concert and the interfering neighbors will challenge everything that Tobias imagines to be true of himself.
It is a bravura script, funny and puzzling and moving, and the company at Aurora does a wonderful job under Tom Ross’s excellent direction.
The production is well-served by set designer Richard Olmsted’s convincing suburban living room and especially well by Callie Floor’s entirely appropriate costumes.
Highly recommended. For further details, click here.
A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee. Producer: Aurora Theatre Company. Director: Tom Ross. Set Designer: Richard Olmsted. Lighting Designer: Kurt Landisman. Costume Designer: Callie Floor. Stage Manager: Susan M. Reamy. Properties: Mia Baxter & Seren Helday. Sound Designer: Chris Houston.
Agnes: Kimberly King. Tobias: Ken Grantham. Claire: Jamie Jones. Edna: Anne Darragh. Harry: Charles Dean. Julia: Carrie Paff.