Review: ‘A Delicate Balance’ still a bracing brew
NEW YORK (AP) — Whoever has to restock and refill the onstage bar at the new Broadway revival of Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” has their work cut out for them.
In this still-stunning Albee play with a cast to stand up and toast, a full glass seems always being drained. There’s cognac, anisette, brandy, whiskey, screwdrivers, gin and martinis, all disappearing at an alarming rate.
Albee’s 1967 Pulitzer Prize-winner, which takes an upper class, suburban WASP family to the breaking point over a weekend, is superbly directed by Pam MacKinnon and so well performed by a trans-Atlantic ensemble that each actor manages to convince you that they are the focus of the show.
John Lithgow plays the soft center as Tobias, the somewhat coolly aloof patriarch, in name only. He would like nothing more than being left in a comfortable chair with a good book and maybe an after-dinner digestif.
Instead, his calm is constantly interrupted by his sister-in-law, Claire (played by Lindsay Duncan), a hard-boiled alcoholic who trades snipes and snarls with his wife, Agnes (Glenn Close), the morally superior fulcrum of the family.
“There is a balance to be maintained, after all, though the rest of you teeter, unconcerned, or uncaring, assuming you’re on level ground,” Agnes says.
Add to this potent cocktail the arrival of Julia (Martha Plimpton), the much-married daughter of Tobias and Agnes, who has fled her latest husband but can’t reclaim her old bedroom because it’s being occupied by Harry and Edna (Bob Balaban and Clare Higgins), two old friends of her parents who have fled their own home, filled with unexplained dread.
The house is full. The bar is stocked. Let the insults fly.
“A Delicate Balance” first arrived on Broadway four years after Albee’s blistering “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” also plumbing the often papered-over resentments lurking beneath very civilized people.
This revival of “A Delicate Balance,” which opened Thursday at the Golden Theatre, comes just a year after MacKinnon won a Tony for directing a stunning revival of “Virginia Woolf.” Albee has clearly found a soul mate in the examination of how life gets compromised and calcified.
MacKinnon has an equally blistering cast this time, with Lithgow as a terribly good ineffective peacemaker, trying to avoid verbal land mines, counseling “let it be,” and constantly fetching drinks. His story about an old house cat becomes an aria and his eventual collapse into a barking puddle of honesty is gorgeous.
Close’s Agnes perfectly navigates the role’s twin dangers of barking self-righteousness, on the one hand, and nasty bitchiness on the other. She’s able to switch from soft and loving to arch and noble to pounce like an alley cat. Duncan, who actually balances a glass on her head, is a nasty, truth-telling drunk; she hovers like a hawk to look for weakness and then flashes her talons.
Plimpton consummately conjures an immature, needy daughter, equal parts smug, put-upon and damaged. And Balaban and Higgins are perfectly in synch as a couple who seem clueless and oddly obtuse, but can suddenly flash their fangs.
Santo Loquasto’s gorgeous, elegant sitting room and Ann Roth’s comfy, elegantly chic costumes for the women and proper country club menswear give the play a polished look that makes the eventual savagery all the more painful. It is truly a revival where everyone does great work, but keep your eye on that busy bar. Imagine taking care of that each day.