Reviewed by Judy Richter
Playwright Edward Albee and the rest of the opening night audience were treated to a splendid production of his "A Delicate Balance" by Aurora Theatre Company. Thanks to a pitch-perfect cast and artistic director Tom Ross' astute direction, this production is absorbing and intriguing. Apparently it's a success at the box office, too, for the company has extended it for another week, through Oct. 16.
Considered a comedy of manners, this work rings as true today as it did when it was written in 1966, when Albee was 38. The three acts take place over an autumn weekend in a comfortable, upper-middle class home in New England. The home is owned by Tobias (Ken Grantham), a businessman, and his wife, Agnes (Kimberly King). Living with them is Agnes's sister, Claire (Jamie Jones), who denies that she's an alcoholic but freely acknowledges that she's a drunk. Agnes doesn't approve of Claire's excessive drinking, but Tobias obligingly serves his sister-in-law drinks from the bar in the living room.
The delicate balance that the three of them maintain is thrown off by the arrival of the couple's longtime friends, Edna (Anne Darragh) and Harry (Charles Dean), who are fleeing from some undefined terror in their own home. Yet another complication arises when Julia (Carrie Paff), the 36-year-old daughter of Agnes and Tobias, returns home after the collapse of her fourth marriage. She's furious when she learns that Edna and Harry are staying in her room. Moreover, it appears they plan to move in permanently. During the ebb and flow of interactions, much background information about each person and relationship is revealed or hinted at.
All six actors are among the Bay Area's finest. King and Grantham, who are married, were longtime stalwarts at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, along with Dean. In addition, Grantham was one of the founders of the 20-year-old Aurora company.
King's Agnes is the fulcrum of the play, helping to maintain the delicate balance that allows everyone to keep going. Agnes realizes how important it is to maintain that balance, for she apparently sees no other alternative. Grantham's Tobias is a far more complex character than initially meets the eye. Claire, as portrayed by Jones, is the keen observer and truth-teller. Darragh and Dean are convincing in the fear that Edna and Harry feel, just as they are convinced that Agnes and Tobias will take them in for the sake of friendship. Paff's Julia is an emotional wreck, but she, too, is brought under control -- at least nominally so -- by Agnes's steady determination to maintain the status quo of her family and household.
With a set by Richard Olmsted, lighting by Kurt Landisman, costumes by Callie Floor and sound by Chris Houston, this "A Delicate Balance" is a theatrical treat for Aurora audiences.