When daylight comes again, order comes with it. And after a long night in the house of Agnes and Tobias you’ll be praying for just that: order, and anything to make sense of the chaos that goes down when the retired couple’s daughter comes back home, asunder and akimbo from her fourth marriage on the exact same night that their two best friends show up and decide to move in. And to top it all off there’s an alcoholic in residence who can’t keep her big mouth shut. Putting the fun in dysfunction, The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre presents Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, directed by Fuzz Roark.
Co-Scenic Designer Alan Zemla crafts a pristine vision of a 1960’s upper-middle class home in the northeast with his intricately assembled and detail-oriented set. From the gentle buttercup wall paint to all of the adoring accoutrements that make it truly feel like home sweet home, Zemla does an exceptional job of pumping class and sophistication into the home of Tobias and Agnes. The sidebar in particular is a construct worthy of note with its polished services and glassware. The authentic crystal ash trays and vintage lamp-shaped cigarette lighters complete the finishing touches on a rather impressive set.
Co-Costume Designer Laura Nicholson measures up to the high standards set by Zemla when it comes to her outfit designs. Keeping everyone looking appropriate for their age and class rank, particularly Agnes, you get an even more thorough feel for the decade in which the play is set. The classy use of vintage style dresses for the evening dinner and the long flowing silk robes for the drunken sister are the perfect affectations of these crisply written characters. And use of screaming bright lime is a theme that runs concurrent through at least two of Agnes’ outfits, a warning sign to the audience that at the very least the character is eccentric if not completely crazy.
The majority of the issues with this production are from the pacing. Director Fuzz Roark is unable to keep the action moving and the plot progressing in a manner that feels natural. There are gaping pauses, not just between moments of interest but often between individual lines that really just let everything that’s happening on stage drift away into the silent ether. Albee’s work is particularly verbose and requires a much tighter and more succinct rhythmic approach to get the major themes of the play explained. And while Albee’s work is dark and mean-spirited, there are hints of comedy woven into the dialogue, which unfortunately get lost and do not translate because of the awkward and sluggish pacing.
As a whole the cast takes a while to settle into the functionality of each other as players on the stage. By the third act of the show, however, everyone present has a much more natural feel to them and real emotional progress has been made. The third act provides a sense of unity and understanding where all the actors show a great improvement over understanding their characters and what exactly they are doing in the production.
Claire (Melainie Eifert) is a jumble of things all rolled into one character; a drunk, a feisty soul, a failure at life, a sassy smart-ass. Eifert struggles to really find her footing in the character’s headspace, her speech patterns making her sound lost and extremely aloof from time to time. But Eifert does manage to nail the sniping scenes quite well; be it biting at her sister Agnes or making the off-color remark at her niece Julia. What little comedy there is to be found in this production comes from Eifert’s exceptional delivery and clear understanding of how to place comic relief in a long dramatic show.
Agnes (Cybele Pomeroy) has the most difficulty with her line delivery. Taking the call of eccentric and nervous a bit too far, there are moments when there are gaping pauses between individual words, which loses the importance of what she’s saying. Pomeroy paces frantically about the space which at times both augments and then detracts from her performance. When her temper snaps, however, she is spot-on for cues of anger, and her ridiculous motherly doting over her daughter during one of the dramatic flare-ups later in the production feels incredibly realistic. By the third act her character has mellowed and Pomeroy gives the impression that she’s much more comfortable in the character’s skin.
Tobias (Steve Avelleyra) as the dutiful husband to Agnes all but blends into the background for the first 90% of the production. He’s soft spoken and tries not to rock the boat too much. And despite the occasional uprising in his voice over melodramatic moments sparked by other characters – there isn’t much to be said regarding his existence. That, however, changes drastically in the final few moments of the play. An emotional eruption of epic proportions comes spewing forth from Avelleyra at the end of the show, complimented perfectly by his physical exasperation. It’s a veritable waterfall of emotions that gush forth at the top of his voice, stunning the audience and making it well-worth the long wait to hear and see it.
Edna (Margaret Condon) and he husband Harry (Dan Collins) are what twist the plot in this production. Though Condon is extremely soft-spoken and difficult to hear at times, her approach to Edna is distinct and enjoyable. Her purposely slow speech pattern is well executed so that the awkward pauses are left behind, creating the sound of a well thought-out woman who speaks her mind. Condon lets her voice be the vessel of her emotional expressions, particularly early in Act I when her voice quakes out of control at the terror in which she currently finds herself.
But the prodigal daughter, Julia (Joy Baldwin) is the show’s saving grace. Carrying a good deal of the dramatic action on her shoulders, Baldwin’s character is lively and vivacious in the most obnoxious way possible, giving all watching a chance to love and hate her, and love hating her. Playing the perpetual brat Baldwin digs her heels into the full-blown tantrums she throws at her parents and really shows off a healthy set of lungs during moments of extreme anger. Her mannerisms and overall attitude are the epitome of spoiled child gone wrong and she motivates the play to its purpose. A job well done from this performer in a difficult production.
Running Time: Approximately 3 hours, with two intermissions.
A Delicate Balance plays through June 30, 2013 at The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre— 817 North Saint Paul Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 752-1225, or purchase them online.