Now that looks pretty good on paper, doesn’t it?
Onstage on opening night at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, however, that pretty good concept turned into something astonishingly good.
The play is a knock-down, drag-out family battle staged in the living room of a prim upper-middle class suburban home. It’s brittle and vicious. It’s poignant. It’s also quite funny.
There is precious little “action,” but when you’re deep in Albee’s booze-soaked, rapier-like repartee, you don’t need car crashes or fight scenes to hold your attention. Such as it is, the plot revolves around husband and wife Tobias and Agnes and Agnes’ alcoholic sister Claire, who lives with them. Their best friends of many years Harry and Edna show up unannounced, and because of some unspecified, nameless fear at their own home, they decide to move in. Julia – Tobias and Anges’ 36-year-old daughter – moves in, too, after the collapse of her fourth marriage.
The sensational ensemble acting is so rich and eloquent that it seems unfair to single out any individual performance. But Jonathan Hogan as Tobias delivers a master class on how to portray an ineffectual character without ever once being ineffectual. He is simply brilliant in the role.
So too are the rest of the actors. Albee vet Maureen Anderman as Agnes rules the family (and the stage) with an iron fist, while Mia Barron as Julia is appropriately laughable as the daughter who cannot grow up. Lisa Emery (as Claire) is really the center of the play, bringing a playful sense of physical freedom and abandon to the otherwise restrained, uptight household. And in the meaty, metaphorical roles of interlopers Edna and Harry, the real-life husband and wife team of Keir Dullea and Mia Dillon exude a bone-chilling matter-of-factness.
It’s a play about loss, disappointment and despair. It’s about fear, sadness and deep dark secrets. It’s about the unbearable load of personal baggage that we each carry with us into every relationship. And, as Tobias says, it’s about “small wars and large anxieties” – the kind we live with on a daily basis.
Yes, the summer theater season in the Berkshires is rapidly coming to a close, but there’s still time to see “A Delicate Balance,” and wisely, the Berkshire Theatre Festival has saved the best for last.
“A Delicate Balance” runs through Saturday, September 4 at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge. Showtimes are 8 pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 7 pm on Wednesday. Also 2pm on Thursday and Saturday. Tix are priced at $19.28-$63.
Ben Brantley’s review at The New York Times
Sandy MacDonald’s review @ TheaterMania.com
Frances Benn Hall’s review @ BerkshireLinks.com
Michael Eck’s review at The Times Union
Gail M. Burns’ review at GailSez.org