Nov 20, 2014
Leave it to Edward Albee to make a story of a couple’s home invasion — not by strangers, but by people they’re supposed to love and cherish — so whip-smart and wickedly funny.
The playwright accomplishes all that in “A Delicate Balance,” his well-known, surgical dissection of upper-class rigidity and rituals, which won a Pulitzer Prize.
The 1966 play is showcased in a very good production that’s cool, well-composed and captivating. It’s directed by Pam MacKinnon, who won a Tony two years ago for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
“A Delicate Balance” traces three days in the lives of Agnes (Glenn Close) and Tobias (John Lithgow), who live in a large, suburban house with her unfiltered, alcoholic sister Claire (Lindsay Duncan, a sly scene-stealer).
Oddly enough, the interior’s palate of pale blues, muted greens and ruddy browns recall Araucana eggs. Fitting, since the residents are all a bit cracked, or have the potential to be. The play begins with Agnes talking about losing her mind.
Albee’s title applies to virtually any scenario. But Agnes and Toby are keenly concerned with the delicate balance of keeping reality — or anything, or anyone, unpleasant — outside their front door.
Before you know it, their petulant daughter Julia (Martha Plimpton, amusing and touching) has run home after the collapse of her fourth marriage. Then her parents’ best friends, Harry (Bob Balaban) and Edna (Clare Higgins, feral and natural), barge in after being frightened by some unknown terror. They plan to stay. But that doesn’t fly in this confined cocoon.
Agnes is tightly wrapped, in terms of both manner and costume, which smartly underscores the sense of insularity. Close, with her aristocratic take on Agnes, comes within inches of coming off as arch. That approach doesn’t hurt the character. But Close’s unintentional habit of tripping over Albee’s dialogue doesn’t help.
Lithgow, meantime, is riveting every moment he’s on stage — which is a lot — even when Tobias is silent. As he takes the character from quiet restraint to explosive urgency, he doesn’t miss a beat and never for a second loses his equilibrium. His is a delicate — and distinctive — balance.