BWW Reviews: Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize-Winning A DELICATE BALANCE Is Filled With Existential Angst
Two-time Emmy and Golden Globe nominee Susan Sullivan (Castle, Dharma & Greg, Falcon Crest) and David Selby (Dark Shadows, Falcon Crest) head the cast of A DELICATE BALANCE by Edward Albee, directed by Robin Larsen at the Odyssey Theatre though June 15. A caustically funny and moving exploration of the bonds of friendship and family in a threatening world, the play is considered by many to be Edward Albee's most challenging work. The first of his three Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, it is stylish, daring and profoundly touching - full of memorable Albee bits, bountiful bursts of colorful invective and lacerating repartee.
Empty nesters Agnes (Sullivan) and Tobias (Selby) share their upper middle class suburban home with their permanent houseguest - Agnes' tartly entertaining and perpetually soused sister, Claire (O-Lan Jones). The household's precarious equilibrium is disrupted one evening by the appearance of lifelong family friends Harry (Mark Costello) and Edna (Lily Knight), who are seeking refuge from an unnamed terror. When daughter Julia (Deborah Puette) returns home in the throes of the breakup of her fourth marriage, she finds her room occupied by Harry and Edna, who refuse to leave.
Beneath the genteel suburban surface, the real questions raised are existential, abstract, and dangerous - from the unknown fear that taunts their neighbors to the response they receive from Agnes and Tobias, a couple who has been living in separate bedrooms for years in their own home. "The play is concerned with the isolation of people who have turned their backs on participating fully in their own lives and therefore cannot participate fully in anyone else's life," explained Albee to biographer Mel Gussow.
But to me, the play was more about the fragility of life itself and how to deal with the fear of our own mortality. How we choose to deal with that fear is at its core, with each of the characters choosing to face it in their own way - more often than not, fueled by frequent visits to the bar in Agnes and Tobias' home. Claire is certainly not the only character drinking, although Ms. Jones certainly has a much more casual outlook on what life may throw her way at any moment, most comically displayed while playing an accordion and yodeling.While we never know what has terrified Harry and Edna, perhaps a vision of their own mortality has scarred them so much they cannot face being alone. Costello and Knight play the characters as real people dealing with a real problem, never too over the top, and just needing their friends emotional, as well as physical, support. Certainly we have all turned to our friends in great times of need, but where do you draw the line?
Puette's Julia is floundering in her own fear of rejection, and her emotional outburst of frustration that her parents have let "strangers" take over her room when she needs it most, was brutally honest and totally understandable. The warmth and familiarity of our parents' home is a trustworthy security blanket known to many in times of need, especially when the rug is pulled out from beneath your feet and you have no where else to go.
Agnes (Sullivan) starts the play by questioning how she will handle it if she is losing her mind, yet she seems to be the most rational person in the play as she tries to keep the delicate balance between fear and reality in place for all the other characters. Surely this fear is universal, and I found myself questioning my own mortality. How would I handle losing my mind? Certainly that fearful question is universal in today's world.
"Albee is concerned with the human condition," says Larsen. "That existential dread that we all deal with on a daily basis. Human relationships are so tenuous, even those with our closest family and friends - at the end of the day, we are alone. A DELICATE BALANCE explores the unsettling side of what it means to be human."
This dark comedy is often not easy to watch or fully understand given the amount of information being thrown out at a dizzying pace. But it is well worth it afterwards when the full force of Albee's writing starts you questioning your own life and fears.
A DELICATE BALANCE by Edward Albee
Directed by Robin Larsen - Starring Mark Costello, O-Lan Jones, Lily Knight, Deborah Puette, David Selby and Susan Sullivan - Produced by Ron Sossi - Set design by Tom Buderwitz; lighting design by Leigh Allen; sound design by Christopher Moscatiello; costume design by Dianne K. Graebner; dramaturg is Christopher Breyer; and assistant director is Miranda Stewart.
Presented by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90025 from April 26 - June 15:
Wednesdays at 8 p.m.: May 21 and June 4 ONLY
Thursdays at 8 p.m.: May 8, 15, 29; June 12 ONLY
Fridays at 8 p.m.: May 2, 9, 16 (wine night*), 23, 30; June 6, 13
Saturdays at 8 p.m.: April 26 (opening); May 3, 10, 17, 24, 31; June 7, 14
Sundays at 2 p.m.: May 4, 11, 18, 25; June 1, 8, 15 (no 2 p.m. matinee on April 27 only)
Sunday at 5 p.m.: April 27 ONLY
*The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.
TICKET PRICES: All seats: $30 Pay-What-You-Can (minimum $10): Wednesday, May 21
Order tickets by calling (310) 477-2055 ext. 2 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com