THEATER REVIEW: A Delicate Balance at Berkshire Theatre Festival



A Delicate Balance
By Edward Albee
Directed by David Auburn
(Main Stage, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, Mass., $15-$63)
A Berkshire Theatre Festival production of a play in three acts
Maureen Anderman as Agnes
Mia Barron as Julia
Mia Dillon as Edna
Keir Dullea as Harry
Lisa Emery as Claire
Jonathan Hogan as Tobias
Reviewed by Lesley Ann Beck
[STOCKBRIDGE, Mass.]-The home of Agnes and Tobias, a couple edging past middle-age, is large, handsome, and welcoming. It’s the home of an upper-middle-class family, somewhere in the suburbs. Everything in the attractive living room is neat and in its proper place.
But in this finely crafted production of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance at Berkshire Theatre Festival, looks are quite deceiving. Agnes and Tobias have her alcoholic sister, Claire, living with them; their daughter, Julia, returns home after leaving her fourth husband, and their best friends, Harry and Edna, arrive on their doorstep, needing refuge, as well. To call the relationships between these characters dysfunctional doesn’t begin to describe the issues at hand.
The director, David Auburn, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright himself, so it makes sense that, under his able leadership, Albee’s rich, complex language is at the forefront of this production.
Agnes, in spite of a tendency to wonder if she is going mad, considers herself at the center of the family, the one who has to keep the balance. But as the play unfolds, the less voluble Tobias is revealed as a source of strength. Maureen Anderman, as Agnes, delivers Albee’s lines with a focus and clarity. Her marvelous performance is luminous and brittle as she avoids any unpleasantness. Jonathan Hogan is wonderful as Tobias, in a portrayal that begins quite quietly but builds in power and emotion through the course of the action.
As this family moves into and out of conversation—and confrontation—they wrestle with what it means to be an alcoholic; what is owed a family member in terms of duty or obligation; and where the boundaries of a friendship lie. Julia thinks she has a right to return to her parents’ home even in her mid-thirties; Harry and Edna believe they are entitled to find sanctuary at the home of their friends. But there are deeper conflicts: the long-ago death of a child, past infidelity, and marriages that have ceased to be physically or emotionally satisfying.
Under David Auburn’s direction, the cast functions beautifully as a balanced ensemble. Lisa Emery’s wickedly humorous portrayal of Claire is excellent; full of surprises and even some moments of tenderness. Mia Barron gives us an appropriately bereft and hysterical Julia.
As Claire says, “there are so many martyrdoms here,” and she’s quite right. These characters, especially in the hands of the fine cast, are fascinating in their individual tragic quirks.
Keir Dullea and Mia Dillon are ideally cast as the somewhat mysterious married couple who have been Tobias and Agnes’ best friends for decades. Dullea’s scenes with Hogan are particularly strong and affecting. Dillon moves from abject fear in the first act to a cool mastery of the situation in the third; it’s a compelling performance.
R. Michael Miller designed the perfect suburban living room for this play, and Wade Laboissonniere has created just-right costumes as well.
A Delicate Balance, written in 1966, is considered an American classic; David Auburn’s finely calibrated production, delivered by a strong, balanced cast, demonstrates the continued relevance of one of Albee’s most important works.
Set design, R. Michael Miller; costume design, Wade Laboissonniere; lighting design, Dan Kotlowitz; sound design, Scott Killian; stage manager, Stephen Horton.
(Through September 4; running time is two hours with two ten-minute intermissions)
Lesley Ann Beck is the managing editor of Berkshire Living magazine. She reviews theater for
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