Tuesday, November 16, 2010

AUM: "A Delicate Balance"

Theatre AUM's challenging season continues with a student directed and designed production of Edward Albee's 1967 Pulitzer Prize winning "A Delicate Balance", once again bringing to the local stage a play that no other theatres in the area are willing to mount, and the large opening night audience welcomed it enthusiastically, leaving the theatre eagerly talking about its often puzzling themes and situations.

With an ensemble of faculty, staff, and student actors, director Sarah Worley deftly guides them through their paces, recognizing both the serious and comical elements Albee is noted for -- absurd situations and contradictory facets within individual characters, unexplained conflicts, and recognizable human emotions and behavior.

Welcome to a dysfunctional family: Agnes [Katie Pearson] and Tobias [Mike Winkelman] are a well-to-do couple who have become so accustomed to each other's foibles that they tolerate oddities at any time. Agnes fears she is going mad, and Tobias pays scant attention. Agnes's sister Claire [Laura Bramblette's superb comic timing and in-your-face interpretation of the role is a standout] an alcoholic harridan, upsets the equilibrium of the household, as does the return of their grown up and spoiled daughter Julia [Tina Neese], on the brink of her fourth divorce.

That not being enough for Albee, Tobias and Agnes's "best friends" Harry [David P. Wilson] and Edna [Janice Wood] show up on the doorstep seeking refuge; they are afraid of something unnamed, and depend on their friends for help. -- These interlopers set family issues on fire as they move in, apparently to stay, and begin to exercise their new "rights" by ordering people around and assuming theey have a new home.

Of course, avioding the real issues is a talent most of these characters have developed over time. What is not said is just as important as direct statements, and the presence of "outsiders" prompts the more direct discourse, with Agnes as the "fulcrum" that holds the family together, maintaining a delicate balance between reality and appearance, truth and fantasy, honesty and hypocrisy, inaction and determined action. -- Mix with this a lot of drinking, and defenses are down, making for both an entertaining and provocative production.

Ms. Pearson & Mr. Winkelman are a good match for one another; her determination is balanced by his tacit acceptance. Mr. Wilson's wimpish excuses are balanced by Ms. Wood's deadly persistence. Ms. Neese's screeching tirades and pouting are balanced by Ms. Bramblette's no nonsense unapologetic directness.

Maddie Bogacz and Sarah Fish have provided costumes that suit each character well; Mickey Lonsdale's lighting provides ample illumination but little variety; Frank Thomas's sound elements are integrated into the production to punctuate the action; and Jason Huffman's scenic design of an upper-class home has appropriate architectural elements but few decorative touches that would establish ownership by a person or family, and looks unfinished.

This is a challenging script that is managed pretty well by the student team who show promise of future endeavors. Theatre AUM has placed a lot of trust in these individuals; the payoff is a solid production.