Reviewed by James Karas
Director Diana Leblanc takes her cue for the current production of A Delicate Balance, for Soulpepper from the title. She gives a sensitive, low-keyed and delicate handling of Edward Albee’s 1966 play which presents a number of people whose personal lives are precariously balanced and who live in a world that is affected by terror and the plague.
Indeed there are many delicate balances that the characters have to face some of which cannot be maintained and that is where the drama of the play lies.
Tobias (Oliver Dennis) and Agnes (Nancy Palk) are wealthy, live in a fine house, and belong to a club. But that is just the surface. Agnes fears becoming insane as she gets older and she has to maintain a number of delicate balances so she can keep her cool composure and self-control. She has an alcoholic sister, Claire (Brenda Robins) whom she hates, issues with her husband’s erstwhile infidelity, lack of intimacy with him after the death of a son and a crazy daughter, Julia (Laura Condlin).
Oliver Dennis, Kyra Harper, Laura Condlln, Brenda Robins,
Nancy Palk, and Derek Boyes
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Tobias, a gentle man, tries to balance the obligations of friendship with his daughter’s vehement objections to Harry’s and Agnes presence not just in her parents’ house but in her bedroom. She is a mess herself having been married and separated four times (quadruple amputation, they call it) and now staying with her parents again who must balance parental obligation with a desire for a quiet life.
There are more delicate balances in their imbalanced world that seems to be on the verge but we are not completely certain on the verge of what.
Oliver Dennis plays Tobias superbly. He wants to be a good friend to Harry and Edna, a good husband, a good father to Julia and a good brother-in-law to the eccentric, erratic and frequently drunk Claire. He breaks down completely in the final scene when he tries to express his friendship with Harry and finds that there are limits to it and he tells his best friend he wants him to stay but asks him to leave.
Laura Condlln, Oliver Dennis, Derek Boyes, Nancy Palk, and Kyra Harper
Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Boyes and Harper must walk the fine line between being frightened into leaving their home and both politely and impudently asking for shelter with Tobias. They feel entitled to it as a debt of friendship while admitting that they would not welcome Tobias and Agnes under similar circumstances. Boyes and Harper walk that line with marvelous delicacy.
Laura Condlin as Julie is a spoiled brat who chooses losers for husbands and runs to her parents when she divorces them. Condlin is appropriately histrionic in the role.
Brenda Robins is the crazy Claire who drinks, lies on the floor and brings out an accordion to cause havoc. She is comic if you ignore her sharp tongue and her desire to kill her sister if not everyone else.
The play is done in a theatre-in-the-round style with a set by Astrid Janson. The benefit of that is that we are all close to the living room of Tobias and Agnes. The negative is that there is very little scope for set design. There is a couch and a bar (they all drink a lot) but it is impossible to indicate the wealth and posh décor that money can buy.
Leblanc insists on low tones, on maintaining the veneer of upper crust politeness and then allowing the emotional eruptions to take their effect. A brilliant approach to a difficult play
A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee opened on January 18 and will play until February 10, 2018 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca 416 866-8666.