A Delicate Balance, by Edward Albee

A Delicate Balance, by Edward Albee
Prospect Theater Project
520 Scenic Avenue, Modesto CA
(209) 549-9341 or house@prospecttheaterproject.org
Friday-Sunday, February 4-27, 2011
Thursday (February 24), 8 pm
Fridays and Saturdays, 8 pm/ Sundays, 2 pm

A Delicate Balance won Edward Albee his first Pulitzer Prize in 1967. Two more Pulitzers followed, for Seascape (1975) and Three Tall Women. (1995). A prolific and talented playwright, Albee has also received a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement (2005), the Gold Medal in Drama from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1980), and the National Medal of Arts (1996). He was an honoree at the Kennedy Center in 1996. No doubt about it, Albee is a heavy hitter. Since the deaths of Tennessee Williams (with whom he has affinities as a crafter of plays) and Arthur Miller, he is arguably the most important American playwright living.

Balance, like most mature Albee plays, focuses on a small group of people whose emotional lives are (fatally) intertwined. It starts with talking – a husband and a wife, the wife monologuing really. She speculates about going insane, but you suspect that her discontent with her own life is peeking out from the edges. Her sister enters the room. There is more entanglement, more rough edges. The couple’s daughter Julia is slated to return soon –after another failed marriage.

The couple’s oldest and dearest friends arrive, announcing that they plan to move in. The homeowners agree. No one in the house is unaffected by the decision. Unreal as it is, this scene sets the course of the play, but then, Albee doesn’t write realistic theater. No matter how deeply his dialogue resonates with the audience, absurd things tend to happen for underdetermined reasons in Albee’s plays. It is enough that the friends are there and their presence sets the other characters on a collision path that illuminates their inner lives.

Since Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1961-2), certain themes have echoed through Albee’s plays, most notably the tenuous connection between badly matched partners and how easily it disintegrates under pressure, exposing the lack of love, compassion, even understanding between the partners.

Balance isn’t a comfortable play or a realistic one. Rather, Albee employs a kind of hyper-realism in  it, focusing not on one-to-one correspondence with mundane reality but on the turning points in the characters’ psyches and lives. There is no clear path out of the chaos of crossed intentions and motives shown in Balance, but the playgoer will leave the theater charged with energy and filled with unanswered questions.

David Keymer, for the Prospect Theater Project