Dramaworks' A Delicate Balance Delivers Uncompromising Thought-Provoking Drama

Review

Dramaworks' A Delicate Balance Delivers Uncompromising Thought-Provoking Drama

Dec 8 2012
Bill Hirschman | Florida Theater On Stage

A nameless terror has upended the fragile homeostasis in Agnes and Tobias' carefully-ordered uppercrust existence, all the more frightening because its anonymity makes it uncomfortably universal for the audience at Palm Beach Dramaworks' production of Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance... What starts as a play about a troubled family of privilege, which keeps our attention simply because they are engagingly hyper-articulate, then ends as a shattering indictment of self-deception and hypocrisy in human interaction. ...There's only praise due the deft direction of William Hayes and the top-flight cast led by superb performances from Maureen Anderman, Dennis Creaghan and Angie Radosh.... This 1966 play has echoes of Albee's earlier Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with its wicked wit, educated people spouting aphorisms and alcohol-fueled descent into the core of human failings. Like his later Seascape and The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, he uses a bizarre spark to turn a comfortable paradigm of everyday life inside out... The cast is peerless. Anderman, a part-time West Palm Beach resident, brings every ounce of her Broadway experience and her personal connection with Albee (she starred in the original Seascape and The Lady From Dubuque.) Her skill at navigating Albee's lush but cruelly Byzantine verbiage is amazing; she makes it seems almost effortless when it is, in fact, heavy lifting. We'll bet the visible but stunning display of craft required will vanish within another week. Acting students (audience, don't read this) should watch how she uses her hands, such holding them out with fingers spread as if to ward off distasteful subjects. Notice how she cocks her head or shakes her perfectly coiffed hair. Her voice is clearly a Shakespearean trained instrument. We are anxious to see her as the stern nun in Doubt at the Maltz Jupiter Theater this winter. While Agnes is the flashiest role, the plot actually tracks Tobias' growth. Creaghan's perfectly-rendered Tobias is a reminder that when he returned here several years ago, he was an expert in playing these Brahmins, not the depraved or drunken creatures in American Buffalo, The Seafarer and A Behanding In Spokane. His Tobias is never a caricatured fuddy-duddy or snob, but someone for whom a smooth well-ordered existence is a virtue and a prize that has been earned. Creaghan skillfully slides Tobias along the play's only character arc to agonized self-awareness, carrying us with him. It is likely Creaghan's best work among season after season of terrific performances. Radosh has long been one of our favorite actresses for her vitality, imagination and the unique reality that she invests in her characters... Here, she is blessed with some terrific drunken entrances including playing an accordion and some of Albee's most cutting witticisms. Radosh finds and combines Claire's self-disgust and intelligence as smoothly as the liquor she swills... As usual, Hayes' physical direction is nearly invisible, which allows us to focus on the words and ideas. A devotee of Albee (this is the sixth of his works at Dramaworks), Hayes has concentrated on working with the cast to successfully decipher what they can of the tortuous script. His pacing seems to be in perfect sync with Albee's intent, which may be a bit more stately than some audiences want but is dead right for the piece. We should have a time-saving macro on the keyboard praising Michael Amico's set designs. This time, he created the elegant dark wood-paneled living room of an old-money family decorated with his usual attention to detail, from the leather-bound volumes in built in bookcases to the cut-glass highballs, goblets and snifters on the bar. A nod, too, to Erin Amico's character-revealing costumes that, while set in the 1960s, could be seen on Worth Avenue tonight. ...The notoriously finicky and curmudgeonly Albee would be proud of this uncompromising edition.