The Stratford Festival of Canada presents A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee
Artistic Director / RICHARD MONET
Director / DIANA LEBLANC
Designer / ASTRID JANSON
Lighting Designer / LOUISE GUINAND
Sound Designer / TODD CHARLTON
Fight Director / JOHN STEAD
Harry / JAMES BLENDICK
Edna / PATRICIA COLLINS
Tobias / DAVID FOX
Julia / MICHELLE GIROUX
Agnes / MARTHA HENRY
Claire / FIONA REID
WAYNE BEST (Understudy), KEITH DINICOL (Standby), KIM HORSMAN (Understudy), JENNIFER MAWHINNEY (Understudy), WENNA SHAW (Understudy)
Assistant Director / EDWARD DARANYI
Stage Manager / MICHAEL HART
Assistant Stage Manager / RENATE HANSON
Apprentice Stage Manager / KATHLEEN HARRISON
Production Assistant / KATHERINE CHIN
Production Stage Manager / JULIE MILES
Production viewed: September 5, 2007 8 pm
Despite sitting in the absolute worst seat in the house (back row, last seat stage right, which puts me unable to see the whole upstage area in the small hockey-rink that is the thrust-staged Tom Patterson Theatre) I thoroughly enjoyed this production.
For a forty-one year old play, there are no signs of age here; the issues are perhaps more relevant than ever.
We originally booked this play as a chance to see William Hutt come out of retirement, but that was not to be. The ubiqitous David Fox stepped into the role and made it his own. At one point during the play, I tried picturing Hutt as Tobias, but could not. Fox’s cadenced, his husky voice, his bone weariness drew us in to his character’s dilemma: how to resolve the conflicting and absolute demands of friends and family?
Diana Lablanc’s firm hand guided Albee’s play steadily, as the calmness with which the play proceeded became mesmerizing. Nowhere was was this calmness more in evidence than in the delivery of James Blendick, as Harry. Blendick’s calm restraint in speaking of the “Terror” was at once comic and profound, and absolutely true to the finest absurdist effect. The story concerns a couple who host her alcoholic sister, and soon will host their daughter, returning home after the breakup of her fourth marriage. Before they can digest that information, they receive a phone call from their best friends who are coming over immediately. The best friends reveal that some unknown something has terrified them, and they are moving in to stay for an indefinite period. This housing overflow crisis is catalyst for a lovely absurd crunch in the whole dynamic.
The production is smooth as glass and just as ready to shatter. Tobias has to balance the divergent wills of his steely but compassionate wife, Agnes, played to within an inch of her life by Martha Henry; and her self-deprecating sister, Claire, played with woozy balletic abandon by the flexible Fiona Reid; and the adventurous daughter, Julia, played with almost bi-polar intensity by statuesque Michelle Giroux— all of this balanced against the bland insistance of “best friends” Edna (Patricia Collins) and Harry. Every combination of these characters was delightful and absorbing to watch.
Reid’s costumes and her sensual use of them were engrossing. Fox’s gradual assumption into the roll of judge and finally supplicant was intensely satisfying; his broken voiced pleas for these unwelcome guests to stay were very affecting. Giroux’s scene with the gun was believably intense. The switch by Collins and Blendick from distraught supplicants to Julia’s incredulous disciplinarians made more sense than it logically should have. But that’s the nature of theatre of the absurd; that is what makes it so interesting. I recall once working my students through Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, a play in which everyone actually turns into a rhinoceros except the protagonist, and commenting that the illogical question everyone in the class was asking at the end was “Why didn’t he become a rhinoceros?”— as opposed to the more logical “How did anyone turn into a rhinoceros?” Theatre of the absurd can make the audience accept the totally illogical as necessary, as it did here.
What I really liked about this play was that although I was sitting in the worst seat in the house, had driven for two days to get there, had seen a very disappointing King Lear just previously (link to review), this production woke me up and engrossed me—and that is no mean feat.