Review: A DELICATE BALANCE at Santa Fe Playhouse

Santa Fe Playhouse, April 23-May 15, 2022

By: Apr. 27, 2022
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Review: A DELICATE BALANCE at Santa Fe Playhouse

Heading out to the Santa Fe Playhouse last weekend, my 13-year-old asked me about the play we were going to see, Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance. I told them that Edward Albee plays can be simultaneously funny, scary and upsetting, and they usually take a turn you don't expect. This and more came to pass at the Playhouse that night. The action of A Delicate Balance takes place in Agnes (Kate Clarke) and Tobias' (Kent Kirkpatrick) living room, where the couple and Agnes' live-in sister Claire (Robin Elizabeth Jones) deal with friends and family attempting to move in.

Agnes and Tobias are an upper-class married couple living in a wealthy, suburban community. Agnes' sister, Claire, is an alcoholic who lives with the couple. The play opens with Agnes considering her sanity due to a disagreement she and Claire have had at dinner. The very wordy dialogue between Agnes and Tobias seems somehow superficial but also has a subtext that the whole story isn't being told. Tobias seems to tune out much of Agnes' somewhat vapid and self-centered conversation, and also appears to have a murderous rage simmering beneath the surface. It this the "delicate balance?"

His relationship with sister-in-law Claire appears loving but strained as well. Is Tobias allowed to side with Claire or show her kindness, when Agnes clearly resents her presence? Is this the "delicate balance?"

Now here comes that turn I told you most Albee plays take - the couple's good friends, Harry (Brent Black) and Edna (Leslie Fleming-Mitchell), knock at the door and rush in, saying they are "frightened" and unable to return to their home. They claim to be there because it's a safe space for them - what the heck? Agnes takes them up to her grown daughter Julia's room to calm down. It seems like Harry and Edna might be here to stay. Is the "delicate balance" how our homeowners deal with their new roommates?

Piling onto the drama, daughter Julia (Elizabeth Fagan) shows up in act two - claiming she is leaving her fourth (yes, fourth) husband. But her room is occupied by fear-laden Harry and Edna, displacing Julia - is the "delicate balance" having to remove the intruders, the adult daughter, the alcoholic sister? Meanwhile, every character keeps drinking alcohol nonstop. It starts to feel like a pressure cooker - who will be the first to break?

I won't spoil the next set of twists and turns. The play closes with Agnes' theory that people sleep "to let the demons out, to let the mind go raving mad, and when the daylight comes again... comes order with it." Oh, THAT'S the "Delicate Balance!"

This production lived up to my expectations of any Albee play, and more. The ensemble cast is amazingly adept of handling the incredible wordiness of the piece, not only when in dialogue but also when listening. This is a testament to all the actors onstage. They are obviously pros who know how to be in and stay in the moment of the work.

The Playhouse staging is quite innovative, a typical living room set with a dynamic video panel providing the backdrop. The lighting effects on the panel add to the tension and unsafe feeling the actors bring to the piece. A drop down to a catwalk-like wall makes for some interesting blocking as well. Kudos to director L. Zane Jones on their innovative blocking, as well as Scenic Designer Jared Roberts and Lighting Designer Thorn Michaels.

It's exciting to watch the Santa Fe Playhouse, which is the oldest playhouse west of the Mississippi and celebrates its 100th Anniversary Season this year, as they evolve and grow. The choice of repertoire becomes bolder and the actors cast more adept with every production. Artistic Director Robyn Rikoon and Executive Director Colin Hovde, along with the Playhouse Board's vision and expertise are helping to elevate the company. This is no longer a community theater, but a professional, daring space.

It will be exciting to see what happens next. If you are in or around northern New Mexico, do see A Delicate Balance - it will give you lots to think and talk about.

A Delicate Balance runs April 23 - May 15. Get your tickets at or call 505-988-4262.


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