Review: ‘A Delicate Balance’ at Peace Mountain Theatre Company

Laurie T. Freed knows Edward Albee’s work and has directed his plays several times. Her brilliant direction is evident in the exceptional moving and powerful production of the  Pulitzer Prize-winning A Delicate Balance, now playing at Peace Mountain Theatre Company in an intimate space at Har Shalom Synagogue, in Potomac, MD.

As in most Albee plays, these characters are grating, flawed, quite ‘messed up,’ need many hours of intense therapy, and are, at times, quite humorous, and they douse their unhappiness with a smorgasboard of alcoholic libations. (I’ll drink to that! L’Chaim!).

And in the small chapel where the performance takes place you can’t escape them. You are in that house with them – like it or not.

The show is described on their website as this:

A Delicate Balance, which premiered in 1966, is a cautionary tale that still resonates for today’s audiences. The show explores choices — those we make deliberately and those we make through inaction.  Should we strive to keep life in balance, or fearlessly take risks? Are we aiming to “settle” in life, or are we prepared to meet the unknown. The characters’ responses to these questions will shock you while making you ponder your own life choices.

With Albee’s recent passing, many local theatre companies have announced that they will be adding his plays to their upcoming schedules. Ind I was reminded of Albee’s incredible talents by watching this emotional production – one of my favorite Albee works.

Freed is fortunate to have a ‘dream cast’ to work with. (I am going to avoid giving away too much of the plot and twists because I want you to buy tickets and come see the show as it ends its run this Thursday through Sunday). All six actors perform the heck out of these characters- by the time the first act was over I felt like I knew everything about them – but as is typical of an Albee play – there are more skeletons in the closet to be unveiled. And they are – and some of them ain’t pretty.

Nancy Blum (Agnes) and Louis Pangaro (Tobias). Photo by Harvey Levine.
Nancy Blum (Agnes) and Louis Pangaro (Tobias). Photo by Harvey Levine.

Nancy Blum is the chilly, yet assertive Agnes, the matriarch who holds this meshuga family together, and what a daunting task that is. To say Blum’s Agnes gave me the creeps, at times, is an understatement. This is a multi-layered performance that deserves to be seen.

Louis Pangaro is Tobias – the ever-suffering and martini-inhaling patriarch who, as you can imagine, has to stay as sane as possible with all the craziness enveloping all around him – all the time. Pangaro is required to have a roller coaster of emotions which culminates in a ‘soliloquy’ that could have registered as a 10 on the Richter Scale. It’s a site to behold.

Nick Sampson (Harry) and Leah Mazade (Edna). Photo by Harvey Levine.
Nick Sampson (Harry) and Leah Mazade (Edna). Photo by Harvey Levine.

Nick Sampson (Harry) and Leah Mazade (Edna) play Agnes and Tobias’ needy best friends who pay them an extended visit. They were so convincing that I wanted to personally show them the door several times. I was pondering carrying them off the stage and out of the shul, but remembered that after having back fusion it was not a smart thing to do.

Devora Zack is the often married and home-returning daughter Julia. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that this kid is a total walking disaster, and Zack takes full advantage of her flaws and circumstances to deliver a manic, yet heartfelt, performance. It’s not an easy task not to portray her as a whining, spoiled kvetch, but Zack actually made me feel sorry for her.

As they say:

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

And then there is Claire, the sister that lives with Agnes and Tobias, played with great humor and ‘bite’ by Janet C. Preston. Why is she there? Why can’t she find her own place? Will they ever get rid of her? Will she ever take accordion lessons?

 Janet C. Preston (Claire) and Devora Zack (Julia). Phot by Harvey Levine.
Janet C. Preston (Claire) and Devora Zack (Julia). Phot by Harvey Levine.

Preston is a hoot (and thank the Lord she provides some well-needed comic relief throughout the play) and her Claire is so relatable. Everyone of us probably has a Claire in their lives and you can’t help falling in love with her – and offering her many drinks – because she is needed by everyone in that living room. She makes their lives tolerable and reminds them of the need for everyone to love each other and to tolerate each other – one happy family! (Gulp).

Set Designers Steven Leshin and Nancy Eynon have built a comfortable and cozy living room with a very active bar where the play unfolds. The use of open curtains in the back of the set cleverly allows the cast to ‘eavesdrop’ on what others are saying about them. Eynon Lark’s props give the set its ‘haymashe’ (homey) feel. Sound Designer, Nick Sampson, who also plays Harry, provides the sound which never overpowers one delivered word of Albee’s text. Lighting Designer Peter Caress keeps it simple and effective and the cast and Director Freed provide the Costume and Hair Design, which gives the characters some flair, color, and personality.

I cannot strongly urge you enough to see one of the final performances of A Delicate Balance. With a talented ensemble and fine direction, you don’t want to miss it. It will show you why Edward Albee’s work will live on forever.


A Delicate Balance plays through November 20, 2016 at Peace Mountain Theatre Company performing at Congregation Har Shalom – 11510 Falls Road, in Potomac, MD. There are three performances remaining: Thursday, November 17th at 8 PM; Saturday, November 19th at 8 PM; and Sunday, November 20th at 2 PM.For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, plus an intermission and a 5-minute stretch between the second and third acts.

Joel Markowitz reviews ‘A Delicate Balance’ on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Meet the Cast of Peace Mountain Theatre Company’s ‘A Delicate Balance’: Part 1: Nancy Blum.

Meet the Cast of Peace Mountain Theatre Company’s ‘A Delicate Balance’: Part 2: Louis Pangaro.

Meet the Cast of Peace Mountain Theatre Company’s ‘A Delicate Balance’: Part 3: Leah Mazade.

Meet the Cast of Peace Mountain Theatre Company’s ‘A Delicate Balance’ Part 4: Director Laurie Freed.

Meet the Cast of Peace Mountain Theatre Company’s ‘A Delicate Balance’: Part 5: Janet Constable Preston.

Meet the Cast of Peace Mountain Theatre Company’s ‘A Delicate Balance’: Part 6: Devora Zack.

Bringing ‘A Delicate Balance’ to Potomac: Peace Mountain TheatreCompany will produce the Edward Albee play in November by Ashley Claire Simpson in The Potomac Almanac.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.


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