Mark Costello, left, and David Selby with the cast of "A Delicate Balance"
Mark Costello, left, and David Selby with the cast of "A Delicate Balance"
© Photo by Enci Box

A Delicate Balance, LA

Edward Albee's drama explores a family living atop a psychological Superfund Site and suffering the dire consequences.

By Edward Albee

Directed by Robin Larsen

Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Los Angeles

April 19 – June 1, 2014

It’s Saturday and you’ve just been given tickets to an Edward Albee play.

What to wear, what to wear? You look through your closet for something appropriate:

(a) Tux. Un-huh.
(b) Business casual. Ahh, no.
(c) Hazmat suit. Hmmm….

Answer (c) suggests you’re familiar with Albee’s fascination with toxic characters. Remember his “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” stage play or movie? You wouldn’t want to stand too near George, Martha, Honey or Nick — for fear of being exposed to high levels of radioactive misery.

Along those same lines, “A Delicate Balance” deals with another family apparently living atop an EPA Superfund Site and suffering the dire consequences.

That includes a retired, well-off business executive Tobias (David Selby) with a fondness for anisette; his alpha-female wife Agnes (Susan Sullivan) who regards herself as the Empress of the household; Agnes’ sister Claire (O-Lan Jones) with a preference for any kind of 80-proof liquor but in a pinch will choke down 60-proof; and Tobias/Agnes’ daughter Julia (Deborah Puette) who’s come home after coming off her fourth failed marriage.

Then there’s also Harry (Mark Costello) and his wife Edna (Lily Knight), close, long-time friends of Tobias and Agnes who take a page from the Occupy Wall Street playbook by moving in, unannounced and self-invited, and expropriating Julia’s bedroom. The reason, they tell a bewildered Tobias and Agnes, is because of some unspecified terror in their own home.

It’s hard to tell if Albee meant this bizarre intrusion as the match that sets off a string of emotional Chinese firecrackers but it certainly has that effect on Tobias, Agnes and Julia. For her part, Claire stands off to one side with a salt shaker, cheerfully if drunkenly, sprinkling it on the wounds her sister, brother-in-law and niece inflict on each other and those close, dear friends, Harry and Edna.

It’s difficult to tell where director Robin Larsen’s management of the action interleaves with the skills of these six veteran players but it is a tight, tense joining. Tom Buderwitz’s set deserves an appreciative nod along with Leigh Allen’s lighting.

Some years after the play’s premiere in 1967 (it was the first of three Pulitzer Prizes in Drama he won), Albee said anyone who isn’t dragging a satchel of anxieties and fears in this day and age is either dense or dull — or both. He might be right.

George Alexander