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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Theater: Delicate Balance
by MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
2004-09-29

This article shared 2463 times since Wed Sep 29, 2004
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Playwright: Edward Albee

At: Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at Victory Gardens, 2257 N. Lincoln

Phone: (773) 871-3000; $25-$35

Runs through: Oct. 31

There is a stage in infant development where everything about the immediate environment—room, bed, toothbrush, cereal bowl—has to be EXACTLY the same from one day to the next. Adults deprived of this security in their early years are vulnerable to bouts of anxiety—defined as 'free-floating fear'. In 1966, Edward Albee presented us with a picture of adults such as these, his efforts winning him a Pulitzer prize, even as they perplexed an America too young to recognize themselves.

We first meet Tobias and Agnes having an after-dinner drink in their tastefully decorated Westchester home and speculating, as middle-aged couples will, on the serenity of a lifestyle characterized by inertia. To be sure, Agnes' sister Claire, who lives with them, tends toward mischief—within tolerable limits—when drunk. But then their best friends, Harry and Edna, arrive at their door claiming to be 'frightened' and pleading to stay the night (rather like children crawling into their parents' bed). Further invasion occurs in the return of their ACTUAL daughter Julia, seeking comfort after the failure of her fourth marriage and resenting the strangers' usurpation of her family's attentions.

So what IS the 'delicate balance' of the title? Civilization and barbarism? Sanity—whatever that means—and Madness? Friendship and Family? Are we meant to question whether we are our brothers' keepers and to what degree? At what point our offspring must be booted from the nest? Or is this nebulous terror, as a tipsy Claire suggests, a 'disease', and Albee's play a call to immunize ourselves against this mysterious and crippling malaise?

Whatever the answer, there is no arguing insufficient research. Though director James Bohnen appears to have edited his script considerably, his production's running time still clocks in at just under three hours. Heavy-lifting text interpretation is the Remy Bumppo ensemble's stock-in-trade, however. From Annabel Armour's wise clan-matriarch and David Darlow's befuddled papa-bear to Linda Gillum's overaged adolescent and Deanna Dunagan's impish accordion-playing heckler, the conversational dynamic never ceases to pique our curiosity, provoking examination of our own resistance to unidentifiable apprehension in light of its example.


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