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Glenn Close, John Lithgow, and Lindsay Duncan Star in Edward Albee’s "A Delicate Balance" at the Golden Theatre
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Glenn Close, John Lithgow, and Lindsay Duncan Star in Edward Albee’s "A Delicate Balance" at the Golden Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

Scott Rudin, Elizabeth I McCann
Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, John Johnson
et al.

Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Lindsay Duncan
Bob Balaban, Clare Higgins, Martha Plimpton

Edward Albee’s
A Delicate Balance
(A Delicate Balance Website)

Directed by Pam MacKinnon

At the
Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street
New York, NY

Scenic Design by Santo Loquasto
Costume Design by Ann Roth
Lighting Design by Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design by Scott Lehrer
Casting by Heidi Griffiths
Production Stage Manager: Roy Harris
Press Representative: Philip Rinaldi
Company Manager: Penelope Daulton
Production Management: Aurora Productions

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 28, 2015

The title of tonight’s endless new production of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance should have been “Six Characters in Search of a Director”. Pam MacKinnon has directed the vibrant Glenn Close, John Lithgow, and Lindsay Duncan to morph into speaking statues, with no palpable depth. I would like to note up front that Albee’s play seemed to be one I’d like to see again, soon, but in a more intimate production without this star-studded cast that appeared to be posing for eye photos, throughout three long acts. Added to the audience challenge was a sound glitch on Ms. Close’s microphone, or stage pocket, as her first droning monologue was mostly inaudible. Others in the row complained of the same sound blanket at the first intermission. The issue was soon resolved, but with little charismatic effect. The high point of the production is Santo Loquasto’s exquisite set, a suburban, upscale living room, with a rear stairway, side-stage, well-stocked bar on the bottom of shelves of neat china, slightly worn, upholstered chairs, placed not close to one another, dark, floral wallpaper, dreary glass, wall sconces, and straightly hung paintings, positioned for symmetry. The gestalt of the setting was solitary quietude.

Agnes (Ms. Close) and Tobias (Mr. Lithgow) have been married for decades and have settled into marital implosion, with minimal physicality (Agnes holds Tobias’ head). Dialogue about almost becoming intimate, when forced to share a bedroom for one night, is scissors-sharp, but, tonight that icy dialogue melted in the suffocation of the psychic void. Ms. Close delivered her lines (even when audible) with sphinxlike affect. Her sadism, unlike the explosive Martha, in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is bottled, dripping out like drops of venom. Mr. Lithgow, as the passive, vulnerable Tobias, in his robe and pipe, seems to be the one set to explode, but it’s only in fits of peak, soon to be absorbed again in the scenic blanket. A couple of minutes of dialogue between Agnes and Tobias, relating to their relationship, were key to unlocking the mystery. In that bed, in that bedroom, for a moment, each thought of and felt a glimmer of intimacy, but neither acted on the repressed impulse. It was a moment of vulnerable fear of rejection or a moment of vulnerable fear of failure. Either way, they chose to remain in a marital vacuum.

Lindsay Duncan is Claire, Agnes’ younger sister, who drinks her way through that liquor shelf and serves as visual bait for Tobias, although this is a family of inaction, no carpe diem here. There’s an underlying wish that Claire move out or “travel”, no talk of career or work, but she guards her “own bedroom” like a hawk. In this production, I found Claire the most insufferable character, insulting everyone who beaches her private space and purpose. She exudes the slightest pulse, the antithesis of dramatic charisma. Her slushy monologues are hypnotic. Then there’s Martha Plimpton as Julia, Tobias and Agnes’ daughter, who collects divorces like some collect china. Ms. Plimpton, for me, was the sole fascinating character here, and there are two to go. Harry (Bob Balaban) and Edna (Clare Higgins), longtime friends of Agnes and Tobias, from the Country Club and beyond, arrive late at night, because of some unexplained fear at home, and require a bedroom. It takes a while for them to communicate, and the audience may assume there’s more to the fear than the little that’s revealed, but this couple seems to have the marital chemistry, or at least cohesion, that Agnes and Tobias lack. When Julia arrives to find her “own bedroom” taken by guests, hell breaks loose, or let’s say “well-appointed suburban” (the program’s noted scenic description) hell breaks loose. Mr. Balaban and Ms. Higgins are psychically expressive, personifying their characters with care.

As mentioned above, Santo Loquasto’s scenery is a high point, while Scott Lehrer’s sound needs adjustments. Ann Roth’s costumes are perfectly chosen, with a fur coat for Edna, that she dare not take off, as she sits inside, in outside clothing; protection for the intruder from a different, domestic domain. Mr. Albee’s play is a timeless tale of complex relationships, marital, parental, platonic, and sororal. And, again, I’d like to see this play in a small theater setting with a different, directorial take. On the big stage, this production could not carry three full acts of living room conversation and gesture.

John Lithgow and Glenn Close in
Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance"
Courtesy of Brigitte Lacombe

Martha Plimpton, Clare Higgins,
Lindsay Duncan, Glenn Close,
John Lithgow, Bob Balaban, in
Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance"
Courtesy of Brigitte Lacombe

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at