This one will have to be short, because A Delicate Balance is exactly the type of theater that leaves me cold and silent. Ever seen it? I figured since it was written by Edward Albee and won the Pulitzer back in the sixties, it had to be a pretty decent play. And then as I was watching the performance, I slowly realized I knew this show. (“Ohhhh yeah…. Their friends are going to move in and and refuse to leave…. “) If you’ve got a hazy memory like mine, I’ll put that into context for you. Agnes (Glenn Close) and Tobias (John Lithgow), wealthy marrieds with a well-stocked bar and a distant relationship, can just about tolerate their suburban existence, but then their various (potentially permanent) houseguests threaten the delicate balance of their lives. And all I could think was — Do we really care about white upper middle class existential angst right now, at this moment in history?
I don’t. And even if you do, I’m not sure this production serves the play very well. Sure, it’s well-cast with recognizable actors. I’ve wanted to see Glenn Close onstage since Sunset Boulevard; here she’s appropriately steely. John Lithgow is affable as mild-mannered Tobias, and I always like Martha Plimpton, who does what she can with her role as the bratty daughter Julia. So the actors are impressively pedigreed, Albee’s writing is intelligent, the characters do actually have some real issues to grapple with. All this could lead to a thrilling drama. But the production is — there’s no way around it — boring. I simply didn’t care about their first-world problems. And it didn’t seem like many in the audience did, either: the women on either side of me snored their way through the show.
Now, my TDF tickets were in the mezzanine and I had forgotten my binoculars. It’s possible that I would have felt more connected to the story had I been closer, and able to take in the subtleties of the performances a little better. But apart from one brilliant third-act outburst from John Lithgow, when I got goosebumps, I sat vaguely disconnected and sleepy throughout.
Director Pam McKinnon was responsible for an absolutely thrilling production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf a few years ago; it’s hard to believe this stodgy A Delicate Balance comes from the same playwright and director. On the other hand, this play does present an excellent case for the three-act play. Each act was under an hour, and the two intermissions were a delightfully brief ten minutes or so. If you’re going to sit through nearly three hours of entitled rich people fretting about their lives, breaking it up into digestible chunks is a good way to go.
My Grade: D+
Ticket price: $42 (TDF)
Worth it: No
Running Time: 2 Hours, 45 Minutes with two intermissions
Standing Ovation Watch: A Smattering