Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Albee Revival Anything but Bleak

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Albee Revival Anything but Bleak

Article excerpt

"A Delicate Balance," which opened in a respectable revival Thursday night at the John Golden Theatre, may be right behind "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" as the best of Edward Albee's plays.

It even travels over some of the same territory in examining the darkly comic pain of marriage.

The retired Tobias (John Lithgow) and his wife Agnes (Glenn Close) live in a fine old house in a fashionable suburb. Their marriage is long and sour, curdled by the death many years earlier of a young son.

Emotional isolation has become routine, even as they share drinks each evening, with Agnes, who believes in order and proper form, going on and on about such things as what will happen if she goes mad.

Tobias is a counterpuncher, quietly waiting for openings to deliver wry remarks.

Also living in the house is Agnes' alcoholic sister Claire (Lindsay Duncan). As with most heavy drinkers in plays, Claire is the no-bull truth-teller, the outsider with nothing to lose.

She and Agnes, who deplores the messiness of Claire's drinking, live in mutual dislike. Claire and Tobias, though, who were possibly once lovers, are on the same wavelength, and he indulgently makes her cocktails.

Over the course of a weekend, two things happen to upend this stagnant household, and forever change it.

Agnes' and Tobias' 36-year-old daughter, Julia (Martha Plimpton), comes home after leaving her fourth husband.

And the couple's best friends, Harry (Bob Balaban) and Edna (Clare Higgins), show up, announcing they've come to stay. They'd been relaxing at home when, suddenly, they were struck by an overwhelming fear, and decided to move in with their closest friends.

"A Delicate Balance" is a long play, and, particularly in Agnes' lengthy speeches, it can slow down, and become gloomy. It's a pitfall that this production, which is mostly rewarding, doesn't completely avoid.

Its biggest asset is Lithgow, who gives one of those masterful performances that's entertaining even as it's dramatically potent.

Tobias seems, until almost the very end, the most casual of individuals, a man worn into forbearance. Yet, beneath the nonchalance, there's the beat of mystery that can be found in almost all Albee characters -- things unsaid, feelings hidden. …

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