Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Pam Mackinnon
Reviewed by Sander Gusinow
Theatre Reviews Limited
(A second review of “A Delicate Balance” by David Roberts will be posted next week.)
There might come a day when Edward Albee is treated like Shakespeare. A familiar foreign language with rhythmic underpinnings, Albee’s angst over the unattainability of human connection could be tantamount to The Bard’s dread of the Great Chain of Being. Artists and academics of the age will try to make a name for themselves with his canon: ‘Albee our Contemporary’ could very well be penned. Yes, that day might come. But if Pam Mackinnon’s stale production of “A Delicate Balance” is any indication, it won’t be arriving anytime soon.
Even with Glenn Close and John Lithgow in the driver’s seats, Albee’s (arguably) greatest work is antique China, plucked from the shelf and dusted off for company. For those unfamiliar, the play concerns aging couple Tobias (Lithgow) and Agnes (Close) lodging Claire (Lindsay Duncan), Agnes’ indiscreet alcoholic sister. Their home is unsurreptitiously invaded by their newly-separated daughter (Martha Plimpton) and a neighborly couple (Clare Higgins and Bob Balaban) who are so frightened of their empty house they’ve decided to board with Agnes and Tobias indefinitely. Lithgow and Duncan do best with injecting vigor into Albee’s slow-moving verse. The cast capitalizes on Albee’s aphoristic wit at every opportunity, but the play is drab, bordering on lifeless, as Albee’s script has passed its shelf-life. Even with the daughter waving a gun around in the second act, it’s simply the precursor to yet another sluggish, turgid monologue.
Lithgow’s explosion in the final scene, as he begs the boarding couple to stay for fear of total alienation, is the only vivid moment of the show. Despite Mackinnon’s best efforts, the play stays a museum piece, unable to pick up steam. Swallowed by an overly-engulfing set, Glenn Close is immovable and statuesque as Agnes, unable to sink her teeth into the long-winded role. The rest of the cast lose their fight with stodginess almost as frequently.
A show so studded with star power rarely stands on its own two feet, and this antiquated remounting is no exception. Watching the aged rich drink themselves into aimless revelation after aimless revelation tries the patience, and with a lengthy three-act running time, the play is sure to exceed even the most seraph theatergoer’s tolerance. A gorgeous set, an A-list cast, a mini-bar and not much else, “A Delicate Balance” never finds the joy of ruggedness or the pleasure of extremes.