Review: ‘A Delicate Balance’ at Silver Spring Stage

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Silver Spring Stage’s production of A Delicate Balance brings Edward Albee’s 1966 play to vivid, powerful life. Directed by Fred Zirm, it combines excellent acting with a detailed set, clever lighting and sound, and beautiful costumes. Silver Spring Stage has chosen a wonderful play for the second-to-last show of their 50th season.

Alexandra Tydings and Louis Pangaro in A Delicate Balance. Photo by Harvey Levine.

Alexandra Tydings dominates the stage as Agnes, the wife and mother. She delivers her lines with a fierce control, trying to hold onto the “balance” necessary for keeping her family together. Emotion frequently seeps into her voice, most often anger, whether at her sister Claire (Susan Harper) for her alcoholism, or her daughter Julia (Diana Arnold), who has returned to the family home after ending her fourth marriage. Towards the end of the play, she gives her most powerful performance when tearfully talking about Tobias’ (Louis Pangaro) choice to not have another child after the death of their son; her mask drops, and she pleads for what she wants. Apart from that scene, she struggles to maintain control and order in the face of chaos.

Louis Pangaro plays Tobias, the husband and father, with great passivity. He struggles to maintain his composure during the difficult time of the play, telling Claire at one point to “shut your mouth.” Many times, he stands apart from the family, either getting drinks or sitting and listening to the drama. Throughout the show, there are times when his attitude drops and he stammers, trying to regain control. It finally shatters during his conversation with his best friend Harry (Craig Miller), as he begs Harry to “bring your plague!” It ends with Pangaro howling and crumbling into a chair; when Harry asks him to help with the luggage, he wordlessly stands up, his mask reaffixed.

Susan Harper plays Claire as a provocative agent of chaos. She aggravates her sister, convincing Tobias to give her drinks even after Agnes forcefully asks that she abstain. She asks Tobias what he and Harry “have in common” as best friends, suggesting that they’ve both cheated on their wives. She deliberately spills orange juice on the carpet. During one scene, she carries an accordion, frequently punctuating the dramatic conversation with musical notes. She throws out sarcastic one liners, getting many laughs. She is a powerful, funny, disruptive force.

Diana Arnold gives much anger to Julia. Introduced at the start of Act II, she paces the stage in rage, snapping at her parents for giving her room to Harry and Edna (Declan Cashman). The hurt little girl emerges several times, for instance as she guards the bar, blocking Harry from getting a drink, while telling him he “has no rights here.” She weeps, asking for what she wants before rushing offstage. Later, she returns with a gun, and in a daze repeatedly asks her father to “get rid of them.” It is an incredible performance.

Craig Miller and Declan Cashman both bring a quiet strength to Harry and Edna. When speaking about the “terror” that has driven them to seek refuge with this family, their voices show absolute fear, Edna standing up in fright. Although it’s never explained what they are running from, they make their need to escape feel completely plausible. Later, Edna asserts her rights in the house, sitting in the high-backed chair speaking about reupholstering it. She softly but firmly challenges Julia’s assertions, even slapping the girl. Miller gives his strongest performance when explaining why they cannot stay anymore. Understated and stoic in tone, it is full of emotion and powerful to watch.

A Delicate Balance. Photo Courtesy of Silver Spring Stage.

Set Designer Andrew S. Greenleaf has created an elaborate set. A sofa, loveseat, and upholstered chair sit in the middle, with a coffee table. Behind them, on the right-hand side is a fireplace and mantle. Next to that is a library with many bookcases and shelves full of books and wine bottles. To the right of the library is small desk and chair, next to a pedestal with a small statue.

On the left side is a circular bar with revolving chairs. Facing the coffee table is a chest containing records and a player. Properties Designer Sonya Okin fills the set with tastefully decorated props, including a coffee tray and cups, as well as some more unusual items, such as an accordion.

Jim Robertson does a wonderful job as lighting designer, using the set in clever ways. At the end of Act II, Claire slowly turns out each light as Tobias sits in the high-backed chair. One light remains over Tobias, showing him trying to hang on. At the end of the play, as Agnes looks out a window and speaks, a ray of light shines on her, as though it were a shot of sunshine. Jeff Miller as sound designer adds to the atmosphere with music from the record player, as well as the sounds of cars pulling up. Soft piano music plays during the act breaks.

The costumes, designed by Harlene Leahy, help reflect the characters’ high social class. Agnes looks particularly stylish, beginning in a gray dress with a pearl necklace, and later wearing a green silk nightgown with a pink sash. Julia starts the play in a short black dress with red sweater and red belt, later changing into blue pajamas with a red and gold silk dressing gown. Tobias ends the play in a red silk smoking jacket.

Fred Zirm has done an excellent job as director. The actors navigate around each other and the stage perfectly, while using every inch of the set. They hit the emotional moments head on, as well as the comic ones. Everything comes together for an evening of enthralling, intimate theater. Be sure to catch it!

Running Time: Approximately three hours, with one 15-minute intermission and one 5-minute intermission.

A Delicate Balance plays through June 23, 2018 at Silver Spring Stage – 10145 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 301-593-6036, or purchase them online.