Perhaps this is an unremarkable Friday evening in the home of an upper-class family with its usual problems. Or, perhaps this is the evening that finally begins the process of throwing the many cracks of regret, deceptions, and desires into relief; when the rocky marriage, alcoholic sister-in-law, fake friendships, and co-dependent daughter all come home to roost.
Victor Kalka’s direction of Edward Albee’s script is deft and delicate, finding the emotional beats of underlying tensions that make each conversation riveting. The genius of Albee’s writing is his ability to weave a lifetime of history into a single conflict, a subtlety not lost in this production.
Agnes (Alice Livingstone) and Tobias’s (Martin Bell) home has become a kind of repository starting with Agnes’s sister Claire (Suzann James), a bit of a free-bird and a bit of a relapsed alcoholic. Her enigmatic presence stiffens the air as she probes both Agnes and Tobias to acknowledge the marital problems they’d rather ignore. Suddenly, like a prophesy or an extraterrestrial visit, Agnes and Tobias’s best friends Harry (James Bean) and Edna (Alison Chambers) arrive on the doorstep in the middle of after dinner drinks in need of comfort and protection. And then there’s professional divorcee daughter Julia (Zoe Crawford) returning home from what looks like the next failed marriage.
Over the next few days, Harry and Edna move in and then move out again, Agnes reveals some secrets which are confirmed by Claire, Julia confronts her displacement as prized guest, and Tobias makes a final confession. It’s this confession made emphatically to Harry in utter desperation that forms the emotional climax of the production. Amongst all the drinking (and there is a lot of drinking), the airs, and the etiquette, Tobias’s being is cleaved in two and the distastefully vulnerable truth of this here act of living is revealed.
The cast work beautifully together to carry the heavy history of this family into the new week. James as Claire is witty and self-deprecating to a charming degree while her sister Agnes is sour and uncompromisingly played by Livingstone. Crawford’s Julia and Bell’s Tobias play each other’s opposites, one wilful and demanding, the other wet and reasonable. Even the exceptionally odd best friends provide a crucial alteration in dynamic from Bean’s uncomfortable deflection to Chamber’s cold insensitivity. Each has a distinct stage presence that allows for the carefully calculated movements of the production to tick towards the inevitable end.
Set design, also from Kalka, does well to encapsulate the 1960s with merely a full bar cart and snake plants but at times there seemed a real need for a sofa to break up the expanse and add some more visual intrigue. In the same vein, the lighting design struggled to evenly light the full space even when considering the interesting implication of the living room as a space of performance.
Albee is not to everyone’s tastes and A Delicate Balance is quite removed from the rambunctiousness of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But the slow burn is intensely satisfying in skilled hands.
A Delicate Balance is running at Chippen St Theatre from November 7th – 16th