“There is a balance to be maintained”
One of the main reasons for finally booking a trip to Broadway was the chance to see Glenn Close make a rare foray back onto the stage in a revival of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. I saw the play at the Almeida back in 2011 with an exceptional cast and didn’t imagine it could be bettered but something about it clearly attracts the crème de la crème as the ensemble around her in Pam McKinnon’s production is just as thrill-makingly irresistible.
Brits Clare Higgins and Lindsay Duncan join John Lithgow, Bob Balaban, and the delectable Martha Plimpton to form the kind of company to dream of, and deliver this modern classic exquisitely if agonisingly as its WASP certainties are thoroughly dismantled. Albee’s prose has an unwieldy verbosity on the page but in the hands of such consummate professionals, it flows beautifully off the tongue as even the most convoluted of clauses gain conversational clarity.
McKinnon’s work at grounding the play really is special, ensuring that the more incongruous edges of the writing are still located within a recognisable emotional palette. So Close and Lithgow are wonderfully understated yet thoroughly convincing as Agnes and Tobias, the upper-middle-class couple whose carefully micro-managed existence has become Agnes’ life’s work, even as her sister (and house-guest) Claire’s presence is a constant challenge. Lindsay Duncan as this alcoholic accordion-player had a lot to live up to against memories of Imelda Staunton in the same role but again a top note of subtlety is hugely effective and allows the lacerating bone dry humour to really cut.
It is the arrival of outsiders that really shakes the tree though – friends Harry and Edna arrive after a terrible unexplained shock, Balaban and Higgins capturing the strange enigma of their behaviour with real élan. And then Plimpton’s Julia, Agnes and Tobias’ daughter, completes the set as she runs from her fourth divorce and acts as the spark for this highly combustible mixture. Plimpton perhaps is the only one to go a little over the top, easily done with such a histrionic character, and hardly a deal-breaker in the end.
Much is left unsaid in the play but in the best possible way, the questions it provokes are engaging and involving and this production never loses sight of maintaining that air of compelling mystery. So for me, a rather magnificent piece of theatre all told, and a great example of luxury casting from top to bottom thoroughly paying off. Santo Loquasto’s rich set design is matched by luscious costumery from Ann Roth, Brian Macdevitt lighting and Scott Lehrer’s sound also match up to the high standards all around, and the whole exercise makes a great case for what can be a challenging play.