BWW Review: A DELICATE BALANCE at Soulpepper is Sophisticated Dysfunction at its Best

BWW Review: A DELICATE BALANCE at Soulpepper is Sophisticated Dysfunction at its Best

Compared to the in-your-face absurdity of November's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? A DELICATE BALANCE displays a softer, more subtle Albee without softening the devastating impact. Directed by Diana Leblanc, Soulpepper's production simmers-exploring dysfunction through the lens of characters that are grounded in reality.

A DELICATE BALANCE opens in the ritzy sitting room of Agnes (Nancy Palk) and Tobias (Oliver Dennis), an upper middle-class married couple. As the matriarch, Agnes controls the variants making up their well-balanced life - even controlling those that seek to tip the scales. Claire (Brenda Robins), Agnes' alcohol-inclined sister, presents as the perfect nemesis to the household order. To upset things further, Agnes and Tobias' daughter Julia (Laura Condlln), announces that she will be returning home due to the breakup of her fourth marriage. Let's just say her parents weren't surprised.

So far the piece is rather normal - and then the friends show up. Harry (Derek Boyes) and Edna (Kyra Harper) have been best friends to Agnes and Tobias for years. Surely that gives them certain rights, right? The friends admit, with excruciating vagueness, that they have come to live with Agnes and Tobias. "We were scared," they say, "we were frightened." That's about all we get.

The strange, mysterious tension in a relatively realistic setting is what drives the unsettling mood in the piece - with Astrid Janson's design as the perfect visual representation of the family. At first glance, we see a posh sitting room, revolving around a laboured liquor cabinet. As you collect more information about the space you notice the carpet, out of place and practically travelling up the wall; you notice the dirty glasses scattered around the space; you notice the magazine open on the floor under one of the chairs.

In Janson's space, Leblanc has created a special dynamic for the family to settle into. They each have defined roles and predictable, expected behaviours within the household structure. With rigid posture, Palk plays Agnes as the keeper of order. Palk's Agnes is equally feared, respected, loved, and hated - a testament to her brilliant acting. Dennis' Tobias is the indifferent one, wandering around pensively. Robins' Claire gets her power as the keeper of secrets - always observing and proudly defiant. Condlln's Julia represents the ideal dependent - running to mom at the first sign of trouble. To keep the peace, they all need each other.

When Edna and Harry arrive, they threaten each of these roles. First, by claiming Julia's room they establish themselves as the new dependents. Second, by taking refuge in the room they replace Claire as the household voyeur. By reprimanding Julia, Edna threatens Agnes' position as head of the household. And with identical indifference, Harry's presence threatens to de-stabilize Tobias, forcing him out of passivity by requiring him to make a decision about whether or not they have the right to stay.

The dilemma ensures you leave the theatre shaken, confused, and questioning the rights of your own family and friends. What demands can these people make on you and what rights do you have to make demands on them? As weird as Albee can be, Soulpepper proves once again that they are connoisseurs of well-designed and well-acted psychological dramas.


A DELICATE BALANCE at Soulpepper runs through February 17, 2018 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery Historic District.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit soulpepper.ca

main photo: Oliver Dennis, Kyra Harper, Laura Condlln, Brenda Robins, Nancy Palk, and Derek Boyes, photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

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From This Author Taylor Long

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