Ventura’s esteemed Rubicon Theatre Company follows its cute and funny
world premiere of Bad Apples with a quite memorable indeed revival of
Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize winning musings on the nature of family and
friendship, A Delicate Balance.  The title refers to the delicate balance
maintained by a suburban WASP couple in their marriage and home life.  This
Rubicon production is a perfect example of theatrical balance; everything,
performances, direction, and design have come together to create about
as fine a production of Albee’s contemporary classic as can be imagined.

Granville Van Dusen, in a rich and seemingly effortless performance, is stodgy
Tobias, and Susan Clark, all restrained primness and starchiness, is Agnes, his
wife of 40 some years. Though Agnes offers Tobias a “healthy speculation”
that she may soon go mad, their life appears to be moving ahead on an
even keel. It’s Friday night, and that means cocktails and conversation,
voices low volume and language carefully cultivated, even when discussing
mass murder. (“I can’t even raise my voice,” comments Agnes to a rarely self-
assertive Tobias.) Their household also includes Claire, Agnes’s heavy drinker
of a sister, brought to brassy wise-cracking life by Bonnie Franklin.  Claire
maintains that she is not “a alcoholic” (her wording, not mine),because “a
alcoholic” can’t help herself. She is, instead, a drunk, she asserts, someone
who could stop at any time and whose drinking is “merely willful.” The three
are awaiting a visit from Agnes and Tobias’ adult daughter Julia (a very
good Stephanie McNamara), who has just left her husband. Julia’s visit in
and of itself would certainly not upset Agnes and Tobias’ delicate balance;
this is her fourth marriage and her fourth return to the nest, after all.

Then however, out of the blue, arrive Edna and Harry (Amanda McBroom
and Robin Gammell), Agnes and Tobias’ closest friends. Good friends they
are, indeed, for when Claire asks Tobias “Would you give Harry the shirt off
your back?” he responds “I suppose I would.  He’s my best friend.” A
theoretical shirt off Tobias’ back is one thing. Edna and Harry’s moving in
with Agnes and Tobias is quite another, and that is precisely what these best
friends have come to do. Unexpected visits are simply not made in Agnes
and Tobias’ world, so when Edna and Harry arrive without warning on this
Friday night, the only possible explanation that their friends can come up
with is that they must be passing by on their way home from the club.  The
truth is something quite different.  Sitting home on a quiet evening, the
couple were suddenly overcome with a nameless “terror,” and the home of
their “very best friends in the whole world” seemed the only possible
destination, the only place to find “succor, comfort, warmth, a night light, a
sureness that Mommy’s home.”

Agnes and Tobias aren’t terribly thrilled by the notion, especially when, the
following day, Edna and Harry announce that they are returning home…for
their things, but propriety demands that they keep their objections to
themselves.  Not so for daughter Julia, outraged that the best friends will be
not staying but living…in her room. “You have no rights here,” she cries.
“Does this give you rights?” Though Agnes tries hard to maintain the
balance of which she is “the fulcrum,” it has clearly been disturbed, perhaps
beyond repair.

Like Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe, A Delicate Balance (which
debuted on Broadway four years after Who’s Afraid…) has many
unexpectedly funny moments, the humor as dry as the martinis Tobias stirs.
Enda tells the oft-divorced Julia, “You have not helped wedlock’s image
with your shenanigans, and she casually declares to an astounded Agnes
and Tobias, “Since we’re living here now…” Later, an enraged Edna (“We
have rights! We belong here!) slaps Julia hard, and then explains dryly that
it’s “a godmother’s duty.” Later still, there is this exchange: Agnes (the truth
having dawned on her): “You have come to live with us?” Edna (matter-of-
factly): “Yes, we have.” Agnes (dryly): “Then perhaps we should go to bed.”

Director James O’Neil proves his directorial finesse in maintaining a delicate
balance between drama and laughs, and brings out the best from his stellar
cast.  In one particularly extraordinary moment early on, Amanda McBroom,
seated on the sofa as the other characters converse around her, gradually
begins to catch our eye. There is something not quite right in her expression.
Something clearly is going on behind her troubled eyes.  And before our own
eyes, she crumbles, the terror she has given as the reason for their visit
leading to a dazzling (and seemingly out of nowhere) breakdown.  As her
milquetoast of a husband Harry, Robin Gammell proves every bit her equal.

The design team which have put this production together are all experts at
the top of their fields. Set Designer Gary Wissmann’s beautifully detailed
upper-middle-class home could have come from Better Homes and Gardens,
and Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting (indoor evening lit by table lamps, late night
dimness, early morning sunrise though the windows) is his usual subtle
perfection.  Elizabeth A. Cox’s costumes are elegant and character defining,
and Jonathan Burke deserves highest marks for his realistic sound design, one
example of which is a very realistic car pulling into or out of Agnes and
Tobias’ driveway.

Ventura may seem a bit of a schlep, even for Angelinos who are
accustomed to lengthy freeway drives, but it’s a lot closer than Broadway,
and that’s about the only place you might possibly see a Delicate Balance
as good as this one. The Rubicon couldn’t be finishing its current season on a
brighter note.

Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main Street, Ventura.

–Steven Stanley
September 27, 2007

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