A DELICATE BALANCE at Aurora is brilliant.

Agnes (r, Kimberly King*) tries to keep the peace between her family and friends (l-r, Charles Dean*, Anne Darragh*, Carrie Paff*, Ken Grantham*) in A Delicate Balance. Photos by David Allen.

A DELICATE BALANCE by Edward Albee. Directed by Tom Ross. Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA. (510) 843-4822 or at www.auroratheatre.org.

A DELICATE BALANCE plays at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley now through October 23 (second extension added performances: October 18, 7pm, October 19, 8pm, October 20, 8pm, October 21, 8pm, October 22, 8pm, October 23, 2 and 7pm)

A DELICATE BALANCE at Aurora is brilliant.

Recently Edward Albee’s plays have been making the rounds of local major theaters starting with A.C.T. producing his revision of the Zoo Story (At Home at the Zoo) and Tiny Alice at the Marin Theatre. The intimate Aurora Theatre, despite its limited seating capacity, has earned the reputation as a major Bay Area Theater and for the start of their 20th season have come up with a splendid staging of A Delicate Balance with the author in the audience who rose to applaud their effort.

Albee was initially reared in a monied upper-class environment and is a master at writing about people in that milieu. In A Delicate Balance his artistic genius is rampant with dialog that borders on being monologs but is conversation with interaction between his well defined characters.

The play opens with just such a scene as middle-age Agnes (Kimberly King), married to Tobias (Ken Grantham), prattles on about her alcoholic sister Claire (Jamie Jones). When he suggests she should apologize to Claire, the response is an unemotional “I have spent my time apologizing for Claire and not to Claire.” When Claire arrives her cutting remark is “Apologize – to bring out your brutality.” Unfazed Agnes unemotionally states, “It is my manner.” Soon to arrive is daughter Julie who is separating from her fourth husband. Claire satirical suggests to Tobias, “We love each other. You love Julia, Agnes loves Tobias and I love you.” The lines are drawn, character defined and the delicate balance within the household is about to be disrupted.

Albee probably was influenced by Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit since the characters that are to enter this balanced sanctuary will be given the choice of staying or leaving. Terrified by “something” in their home, neighbors/best friends, Harry ((Charles Dean) and wife Edna ( Anne Darragh), arrive unannounced being too frightened to stay at home. Claire’s incisive questions of why they are here go unanswered as Harry and Edna are given “Julie’s room.”

Julie (Carrie Paff) arrives discovering that her “territory” has been usurped by Harry and Edna. Her sudden hysteria is not assuaged by Tobias’s insistence that they are their best friends for 30 years. Sly Albee questions to meaning of true friendship. Albee must believe the truism of “in vino veritas” since there is frequent use of the bar on upstage center and he gives Claire the most revealing and cutting lines. When a discussion arises between Claire and Tobias about friendship, “What do you have in common with your best friend? Is it that you both have been unfaithful to your wives with the same woman?”

The actors each have their turn in the spot light. King and Grantham, married in real life, play like the seasoned veterans that they are. Grantham’s simple “Yes” answers to King’s questioning narrative are brilliantly timed. Dean and Darragh’s depiction of their terror is absolutely believable and Darragh’s physical confrontation with the hysterical Paff can be felt by the audience. Albee is noted for inserting disquieting action/dialog in his plays and does so by giving Tobias a completely unexpected scene about friendship and loss of same with a poignant yet chilling admission about his “relationship” with his favorite cat. Grantham nails that scene.

The play is constructed in the classical three act format with the second act by far the most stimulating as simmering secrets and hidden relationships are unearthed. It is enlivened by Paff’s depiction of Julia’s histrionics. Albee cleverly bookends the evening with a speeches by solid in-charge-of-the- household Agnes but with no indication if a delicate balance will ever return. Running time a stimulating 2 hours and 40 minutes with two ten minute intermissions is an experience that should not be missed.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com