Los Angeles Theater Review: A DELICATE BALANCE (Odyssey Theatre)

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by Tom Chaits on May 9, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


When Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 it was no doubt a theatrical revelation. Although it didn’t pack the emotional wallop of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962), the story of an aging couple, upper-crust empty nesters forced to confront the ramifications of both their life choices and that it was too late to do anything about them, resonated with the affluent theatergoers of the 1960s. As a historical snapshot, it has some interest and validity, but nearly half a century after its debut it all seems a bit trite by today’s standards. The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s decision to set their revival in the present only serves to further deflate its impact, turning it into one big whine-and-cheese fest.

The cast of A DELICATE BALANCE at the Odyssey Theatre.

Suburban housewife Agnes (Susan Sullivan) sees herself as the fulcrum keeping life in balance. She accomplishes this by attempting to control everything and everyone around her. Yet she does so by not really dealing directly with anything that might be in the least bit emotionally upsetting. Appearances are everything to her and all must be prim and proper. She inhabits her carefully crafted white-picket-fence world with her complacent and compliant husband Tobias (David Selby) and her unemployed alcoholic younger sister and constant embarrassment Claire (O-Lan Jones). Everyone drinks to take the edge off and lull themselves into acceptance.

O-Lan Jones, Lily Knight, and Susan Sullivan in A DELICATE BALANCE at the Odyssey Theatre.

Enter Harry (Mark Costello) and Edna (Lily Knight), the couple’s best friends, who have fled their home seeking refuge from some unnamed terror. Soon, they are all joined by the pair’s daughter, Julia (Deborah Puette), who is returning home to the nest after the failure of her fourth marriage. The balance is definitely thrown off and the sextet go at each other for the ensuing three acts.

Mark Costello, Lily Knight, Susan Sullivan in A DELICATE BALANCE at the Odyssey Theatre.

Under director Robin Larsen the show never really gains full momentum. She often has the cast delivering their lines in a sing-song manner giving them a false relevance and an air of faux iambic pentameter. It’s a distraction. Of the actors, Ms. Sullivan (in a part she could play in her sleep) is the sole performer to truly excel. Coming in a close second is Ms. Puette. Their scenes together are the only ones that truly live up to the dramatic potential of the piece.

Lily Knoght, Deborah Puette and O-Lan Jones in A DELICATE BALANCE at the Odyssey Theatre.

Mr. Selby is very good in the early scenes that require little more than acquiescence but falters a bit when he is called upon to up the ante. Ms. Knight and Mr. Costello were simply middle of the road…not great….not terrible…just there. The real disappointment was O-Lan Jones. The character of Claire is the comic relief and she somehow managed to miss the mark at every turn. I place part of the blame on the director. She clearly allowed her to play the part way too seriously, taking the zing out of every zinger Mr. Albee has written for her.

David Selby and O-Lan Jones in A DELICATE BALANCE at the Odyssey Theatre.

The technical crew excels, especially Tom Buderwitz. His representative living room set captures the mood perfectly, as does Leigh Allen’s lighting. The open air design is both freeing and claustrophobic at the same time. Not an easy feat to pull off.

Lily Knight and Deborah Puette in A DELICATE BALANCE at the Odyssey Theatre.

Had the decision been made to set the show in its original time period it would have been more successful on a nostalgic level. The problems of the group are quaint as a reflection but not as a present day reality. As an audience member you never feel fully vested or involved in the group’s predicament. Yet, it’s not a complete failure and it does have Albee’s infamous word play and some very good performances. But, and it is a big but, is it worth 2 ½ hours of your time? That’s a delicate conundrum.

Susan Sullivan and David Selby in A DELICATE BALANCE at the Odyssey Theatre.photos by Enci Box

A Delicate Balance
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
scheduled to end on June 15, 2014
for tickets, call (310) 477-2055
or visit www.OdysseyTheatre.com

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