BWW Interviews: Suzanne Balling on City Theatre's A DELICATE BALANCE, Opening Tonight
Described as "a scorching masterpiece," Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance is a riveting, funny, and thought-provoking examination of family and friends is one of the most successful plays in American theatre and all too rarely produced in Austin. Guest director Fritz Ketchum leads the production with show dates May 2 - 25, 2014 at City Theatre.
BroadwayWorld recently spoke with Suzanne Balling who will be playing Claire in City Theatre's production. Here's what she had to say about tackling Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-winning play...
BWW: A Delicate Balance won Edward Albee his first of three Pulitzer Prizes back in 1967, but it's now not quite as well-known as some of his other plays like The Zoo Story, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or even his most recent success, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? For those who aren't familiar with the play, what is A Delicate Balance about?
SB: A Delicate Balance takes place over one weekend at the home of Tobias and Agnes, a wealthy couple in early retirement with a strained but tolerable marriage. Agnes' alcoholic sister Claire is already in permanent residence, their best friends Harry and Edna show up unannounced to take refuge from an undefinable fear that has suddenly overtaken them, and their daughter Julia flies home from California to escape her fourth failed marriage. Hilarity and self-revelation ensue.
BWW: Have you performed in an Albee play before?
SB: I have not. I'm excited for the opportunity.
BWW: What about Albee, his plays, and his style or writing do you feel has made him one of the most frequently produced American playwrights?
SB: It's the dialogue that makes Albee so watchable. The characters express themselves more eloquently and cleverly than real people. The sentences would be a bitch to diagram, as they're convoluted with parenthetical phrases and asides. But behind these well-crafted scenes and speeches is a great understanding of the natural rhythms of speech and the quickness and dynamics of group banter. The words--and there are a lot of them--fly off the tongue. It helps that we have a cast that can follow through with the pacing. Albee is notorious for the scads of stage directions peppering the script: "firmly", "sadly", or (my favorite) "ibid." But, honestly, the dialogue is written with such thoroughness that I think it would be difficult to stray too far from Albee's intent, even if this line here or that line there is delivered differently.
I think, too, Albee is sure enough with his writing to make his themes big. A Delicate Balance is not just a portrait of a dysfunctional family. It is ABOUT SOMETHING--what we want, what we take, what we give, what we cannot give. I can't imagine walking out of this play without wanting to sit down and talk about it.
BWW: What are some of the challenges in taking on Albee's dialogue and characters?
SB: I hate to even introduce this word into the conversation, but it's hard to escape an underlying sense of misogyny in the play. None of the women come out looking too good. Now, the characters are based on real women in Albee's life, so they reflect Albee's personal experience and judgment. As actors, you have to embrace the characters' complexities and flaws and hope that, even if the audience judges them harshly (or judges Albee harshly for presenting them so negatively), the audience will see truth in them. Let's face it, flawed characters are a lot more interesting to watch and portray than "normal" people. You also have to recognize that, as outrageous as these characters' behavior gets, there are plenty of real people out there acting the same way. You don't have to look too far in any family to find real-life parallels. One specific challenge for my character, Claire, is her frequent inebriation. There is a temptation to blame all of her actions on her drunkenness, but for me as an actor it was important to have clear motives behind her behavior. "In vino veritas," as they say.
BWW: What's your favorite aspect of your character?
SB: I'm so happy to get a laugh or two! Claire is the fool of the play, in the classic sense. She cracks jokes, mocks her "superiors" to their faces, and sings for her supper--literally--but her life experience has made her the wisest of the bunch. Somehow I've been pigeonholed as a dramatic actress, so any time I get to do comedy I'm going to run with it. The play in general is much funnier than one would expect.
BWW: What has the rehearsal process been like for this show?
SB: Props, props, and props! There is so much pouring of drinks, distributing of drinks, drinking of drinks, refilling of drinks. All kinds of drinks: anisette, cognac, scotch, martinis, vodka, coffee, orange juice. All we lack is a plate of sardines. I will say this, though: Scott makes a fantastic fake martini. Water never tasted so good.
BWW: Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
SB: There are so many good ones. As far as my own material, I'm partial to my entrance in Act 2, scene 2. I don't know what spoilers I'm supposed to avoid, but I have a particular prop that took some doing to acquire and learn how to use, but the scene is quite fun.
BWW: Any last thoughts for Austin audiences who might catch A Delicate Balance?
SB: Don't be afraid to laugh. Albee referred to the play as a "social comedy."
A DELICATE BALANCE plays The City Theatre at 3823 Airport Blvd, Suite D, Austin 78722 now thru May 25th. Performances are Thursdays - Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5:30pm. Tickets are $10-$25. For tickets and information, please visit www.citytheatreaustin.org