Review: A Delicate Balance (Soulpepper)

Photo of Laura Condlln, Oliver Dennis, Derek Boyes, Nancy Palk, and Kyra Harper in A Delicate Balance by Cylla von TiedemannSoulpepper Theatre’s opening of A Delicate Balance a success, on stage in Toronto

Soulpepper Theatre Company has never shied away from embracing intriguing and engaging theatre, and their latest production of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance is no difference. This sardonic, sarcastic and highly entertaining piece of theatre features fantastic performances, a stunning set, sharp and witty dialogue, and a plot that will have you experiencing a wide range of emotions from irritation and shock to laugh-out-loud amusement. It all makes the show’s three-hour run time fly right by.

While approaching the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, I felt apprehensive and was not sure what the atmosphere would be like. This is the first major production from Soulpepper since artistic director Albert Schultz stepped down from his position in the wake of legal proceedings relating to charges of sexual misconduct. The company’s other main production to have opened this week, Amadeus, has already been cancelled in light of these allegations. Though I personally feel angered by these allegations and am one to believe survivors, I believe in the artistic integrity of the cast and crew involved with A Delicate Balance, and am still happy to support them.

Indeed, it was great to see that the energy on opening night was still energetic and excitable, and as the cast took the stage, their enthusiasm and dedication to the production was palpable.

Edward Albee, who many may remember as the writer behind Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, has written another Pulitzer Prize-winning tale deconstructing the family dynamic in middle America during the 1960’s. In A Delicate Balance, married couple Agnes (Nancy Palk) and Tobias (Oliver Dennis) live together mostly happily with Agnes’ sister Claire (Brenda Robbins). Their lives suddenly become uprooted when Nancy and Tobias’ daughter Julia (Laura Condlln) returns home with bags in tow after her fourth, yes fourth, failed marriage. If that wasn’t enough to stir up the dust, in comes neighbors and best friends Harry (Derek Boyes) and Edna (Kyra Harper), who also arrive unannounced with bags in tow.

I know in my years I must have watched a few sitcom episodes featuring similar situations such as this. The story is perfectly relatable in so many ways — I’m sure I know an Edna, maybe a few people in my life I feel are painfully like Edna. I have a feeling I may have been Julia at some point. The familiarity with the characters and the situation leaves this a story that hits close to home, sometimes too close.

As usual, the performances from the cast were captivating. I personally loved Robbins’ performance as Claire, who is brash, blunt and wholly unapologetic in the most hysterical kind of way. From her animated story about buying a topless bathing suit to her waltzing into the living room brandishing an accordion to break the tension, Claire is a firecracker, and Robbins plays her with aplomb. Palk as Agnes, meanwhile, fully embodies the character’s dry sense of humor and Albee’s lyrical dialogue. Her desire to maintain the peace and status quo in her household despite the chaos that has landed among them truly resonates.

I also enjoyed Condlln’s performance as Julia; I guess my affinity for the character comes mostly in how much I see myself in her. The feeling of losing a sense of belonging and permanence within your childhood home, that even in these familiar walls you are now a guest, is unnerving and terrifying. As Julia unraveled, I felt her descent hit distinct chords within myself. The only part that I didn’t connect with was the exact moment she snapped. I didn’t feel Condlln’s performance held that distinct flip of the switch that launched the character into hysterics.

The set designed by Astrid Janson is lush and beautiful. I loved the use of sheer walls on either side of the living room and the use of clear plastic easy chairs. I loved that the stage is set in the round with the audience enjoying the performance from either side of the stage — it left the actors free range to sit, stand and otherwise occupy the stage freely, and offered a unique point of view for the audience as at any given time only certain actors would be facing them. I loved the feeling of the audience truly being a fly on the wall in the lives of these people; the staging felt more like a slice of life than it did an actual ‘play’.

My only nitpick is that the carpet that ran the width of the stage was askew and kicked up on one side that it rode up the wall. That little tidbit felt so out of place in a household so well maintained. The urge to walk down to the stage and straighten it was strong.

Despite the upheaval at Soulpepper, A Delicate Balance has set sail with tremendous success. A large, warm and welcoming opening night crowd fully embraced the show that was delivered with fervor, and I do see the enthusiasm to continue with the rest of their run. Yes, the run time is just under three hours with two 15-minute intermissions, but the show is so entertaining that the time flies by. This is a show that is certainly worth the watch.

Details:

  • A Delicate Balance is on stage at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane in the Distillery District) until February 10, 2018.
  • Performances run Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 pm with additional matinees on select Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 pm. See website for details.
  • Tickets range from $37 for students (ID required) to $95 for adults.
  • Tickets can be purchased online, in person at the box office before the show, or by calling 416 866 8666.
  • Performance runs 2 hours 50 minutes with two 15 minute intermissions.
  • Audience Advisory: The implication of gun violence and actors will be smoking herbal cigarettes.

Photo of Laura Condlln, Oliver Dennis, Derek Boyes, Nancy Palk, and Kyra Harper by Cylla von Tiedemann