Monday, January 19, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: A Delicate Balance with Glenn Close and John Lithgow

John Lithgow and Glenn Close. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
Finding Balance More Difficult Than Delicate in Albee’s Family Drama
By Lauren Yarger
If you like pondering unknowns and enjoy angst about keeping up appearances, then Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, getting a limited-run revival on Broadway, is the play for you.

Spending almost three hours with some unlikable characters trying to find their balance in the midst of unrealistic circumstances didn’t tip the scales for me, however, even if this play did win the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1967 and despite the fact that it offers considerable star power with Glenn Close (in her return to Broadway for the first time in 20 years) and John Lithgow heading the cast.

Close and Lithgow portray Agnes and Tobias, a well-off suburban couple who appear to have the perfect life -- at least to those outside their opulent home, metaphorically designed by Santo Loquasto with rooms and passages just beyond view. Come inside, and things aren’t so perfect.

Tobias and Agnes don’t share a bed or really communicate about anything important. Tobias deals by drinking a lot and at one time, sought the solace from another woman. Agnes is the perfect wife, keeping the household functioning, even if disfunctionally. Her boozing, plain-spoken sister, Claire (Lindsay Duncan), has been staying with them and is a constant reminder that things aren’t perfect in the family manse. She and Tobias relate in way that continually upsets the balance between him and Agnes. Now, the couple’s daughter, Julia (Martha Plimpton), has announced she will be moving in too following her fourth failed marriage.

Additional angst ensues when long-time friends Harry (Bob Balaban) and Edna (Clare Higgins) drop by and announce their intention to move in because they have been driven from their own home by some unknown terror. They take up residence in Julia’s room and she resents being displaced. And speaking of fear, will Tobias be able to work up the courage to ask Harry and edna to leave? Home is where you belong, but where is home? And do years and years of marriage and friendship count for anything at all?

Albee raises these interesting questions, but these folks are so unlikable and their situations so bizarre -- they range from annoying conversations in snobby language (Dialogue Coaching by Deborah Hecht) to Claire’s zany yodeling while accompanying herself on the accordion to Julia’s death threats at gunpoint -- that it’s hard to engage or feel that the elements ever will stop rocking the scales to find a balance point where they can settle and focus.

It’s fun to see Close back on stage, but her dynamic presence doesn’t quite fit into the character of trapped Agnes, despite Costume Designer Ann Roth’s attempts to soften her with soft, flowing blouses. Lithgow, in contrast, is a mess in a mishmash of plaids and patterns – much like his character.

I kept wishing Close (who has wowed on stage and screen with numerous strong performances) and the talented Plimpton were playing roles that would challenge the depth of their abilities. Director Pam MacKinnon doesn’t even get a full turn from Duncan, whose role gets most of the laughs, or from London stage gem Higgins. These performances both seem acted, rather than felt.

Lithgow is solid, and moving as weak, puzzled Tobias, but the part doesn’t really give him far to go. Balaban, who entertains in films like “Waiting for Guffman,” gives the most cause for smile here. He elicits chuckles with just a look or by delivering lines in ways that otherwise wouldn’t strike us as funny.

Two hours and 45 minutes and two intermissions later, I felt as though the balance had been more difficult than delicate.

A Delicate Balance plays through Feb. 22 at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th St., NYC. Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets: $60 - $155:

Christians might also like to know:
-- Lord's name taken in vain 

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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