Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Delicate Balance

The line between elliptical fascination and obscure tedium can be thin, and the current production of A Delicate Balance falls to the wrong side far too often.

John Lithgow, Glenn Close
Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
The long-married Agnes and Tobias have a careful relationship in which needs are drowned in words and alcohol and appearances reign. In its own way, the marriage is a success, although neither participant is particularly happy. Into their careful world come three challenges: Agnes's sister Claire, a "willful drunk" who speaks her mind; their daughter Julia, fresh from yet another failed marriage and whiny as can be; and their good friends Harry and Edna, fleeing from an overwhelming feeling of anxiety in their own home. The setup is intriguing, like a game of Jenga where each move brings the structure a step closer to collapse.

However, this production never catches fire, and it's interesting to ponder why. Much of the responsibility must fall on director Pam MacKinnon. While her work on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was nothing short of brilliant, here the proceedings are unfocused, with some of the actors in completely different plays. Also at fault are the usually wonderful Glenn Close, who seems so overwhelmed by the words of the play that she lacks the energy for her usual layered work, and Martha Plimpton, who plays Julia as a one-dimensional loser who hasn't gotten past age 13 or so (and if that is her choice--to play Julia as reverting to 13--it's still a one-dimensional 13-year-old). 
The rest of the cast are better but not up to their usual excellence. 

I saw the Rosemary Harris-George Grizzard-Elaine Stritch production that many people raved about, and that was somewhat more successful. The night I saw it, however, Stritch was sucking up focus like a kid sucking up a sugary drink, so there was no balance at all, delicate or otherwise. I suspect the play is a hard one to get just right. If I ever get my time machine, I'll check out the orginal production, with Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, and Marian Seldes.

(paid full price for last row rear mezz; was seated by usherette in second row rear mezz for act one and first row rear mezz for act two.)

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