Venue: Chippen Street Theatre (Chippendale NSW), Nov 7 – 16, 2019
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Viktor Kalka
Cast: James Bean, Martin Bell, Alison Chambers, Zoë Crawford, Suzann James, Alice Livingstone
Images by Blake Condon
Agnes and Tobias are rich, white, empty nesters who appear to live the suburban dream, yet not a moment goes by that is not filled with anxiety, in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. Everything seems in place so that the couple could go about their business without a care in the world, but there is a terror that permeates. We soon discover that all the characters in their home suffer from an intense and prolonged existential crisis. Albee shows only the manifestations of his characters’ fears, leaving us to find an explanation for their condition.
Under Viktor Kalka’s direction, the 53 year-old play retains its pertinent bite. Although the production lacks visual flourish, Kalka is able to manufacture a disquiet that rings with authenticity. Ryan Devlin’s restrained sound design helps us locate dramatic tension, as the plot moves through waves of dilemma.
The show is demanding of its cast, and can at times seem under rehearsed. Agnes is played by Alice Livingstone, who brings an appropriate sense of loss and bewilderment to proceedings. Martin Bell as Tobias has a tendency to be subdued in approach, but occasional emotional outbursts make for excellent drama. Their daughter Julia is made compelling by Zoë Crawford, and Suzann James as Agnes’ sister Claire, offers a persuasive portrait of an alcoholic escapist. James Bean and Alison Chambers leave a strong impression as family friends Harry and Edna, both actors invigorating with the precise humour that they bring to the stage.
Agnes and Tobias adhere to all the rules, and even though their cookie-cutter existence appears perfect on the outside, there is nothing right about how they feel on the inside. Every day we are told what achievement and success looks like, but if we follow every prescribed route, without sufficiently interrogating their true purposes and consequences, we risk using up our time only on the wishes of others.
The characters in A Delicate Balance spend all their energies wrestling frustrations, but fail to identify what they need that will deliver peace, or even a modicum of joy. They are in constant struggle with the expectations of those they do not like, refusing to disengage with the familiar, as though addicted to the comfort of their pain. It is true that people care too much about all the wrong things, but to shift focus to where the good things are, is always easier said than done.