Sunday, September 11, 2011

"A Delicate Balance": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

You can't help but think of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" when you see the Aurora Theater's new production of the play Edward Albee wrote right after it: "A Delicate Balance." Whereas 'Virginia Woolf' deals with the deep fury of awful people trapped within an alcoholic nightmare, 'Delicate Balance' presents more sublimated anger, along with a little farce to underscore each character's hidden frustration.

What astonishing writing and acting! More than two hours of stage time fly by in an instant. It's terrific theater, and the two short intermissions allow us to collect our thoughts before diving back into the insanity.

The well-off suburban drawing room of Tobias and Agnes, with an empire sofa and coffee table, the familiar big brown Aurora easy chair in the corner for various characters to crumple into at various times, and of course the liquor cabinet, is where all the action takes place. Agnes (Kimberly King) opens the show musing about how she could very possibly lose her mind as she gets older, while her husband Tobias (Ken Grantham) half-listens. It seems incongruous for her to be concerned with such a morbid issue, but by the time the play ends, and she revisits her opening speech, we see this has been Albee's point: how do we keep our lives in balance, given our own personal insanities and fears of decline?

Agnes's sister, the drunkard Claire (Jamie Jones), has a twisted sisterly relationship with Agnes -- they hate each other -- but Claire is living in the house anyway. The three seem to have found their instrument of equilibrium -- booze -- that is, until Harry and Edna arrive. Harry (Charles Dean) and Edna (Anne Darragh) are best friends with Tobias and Agnes, but they have clearly gone off their rockers. For some unspoken reason Harry and Edna have become terrified to remain in their own home so they've just moved in with Tobias and Agnes, occupying the room of daughter Julia (Carrie Paff). No one asks why. No one asks anything. The problem is that Julia has just split up with her fourth husband and returned home to find her room occupied by Harry and Edna. No one really knows what is going on.

Albee chose the perfect title, though we don't realize it until Act Three. Acts One and Two present the seemingly insoluble neuroses of all the characters, as everyone waits for the solid Tobias to DO something. His aria-like monologue in Act Three, as he finally is able to express to Harry how he feels, albeit in tortured gasps, is worth the price of admission by itself. Only then do we see the lines drawn for a possible new balance in the future.

RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "A Delicate Balance" Four Stars, one for writing, one for Tom Ross's direction, one for acting and one all by itself for Kimberly King's Agnes. She gives us someone on one hand horrid to her child and overly concerned with what the neighbors might think, but on the other hand someone who has been deeply injured herself. In Albee's universe, where no one is willing to confront anything important, we have to find truth somewhere. We find it in Agnes. In the end, she is the delicate balance and Kimberly King makes it all possible.

"A Delicate Balance"
Aurora Theater
2081 Addison Street, Berkeley
Through Oct. 9

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