A Delicate Balance

Forty years after it was first produced and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance is more pertinent than ever in addressing a basic dysfunction underlying American culture—the relentless replacement of humanistic values with those derived from the marketplace.

Photo of Erica Sarzin-Borrillo as Agnes
Erica Sarzin-Borrillo
as Agnes
Photo: Germinal Stage
Even Albee's style, which at the time seemed a departure from realism, fits more comfortably in our present setting, where relativity has become part of our everyday worldview.

Yet in Germinal Stage Denver's current production, directed by Ed Baierlein, the playwright's wit and sense of irony are nothing if not magnified by this seemingly familiar approach.

In a well-appointed living room, we're introduced to an erudite family that nourishes itself on combative repartee fueled by economic independence, leisure time, and alcohol.

Photo of Erica Sarzin-Borrillo as Agnes and Deborah Persoff as Claire
Erica Sarzin-Borrillo as Agnes
and Deborah Persoff as Claire
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
As Claire, Deborah Persoff wields the fiery tongue that ignites this combustible mix, relishing her flame-throwing jousts with sister Agnes. In a silk robe accented by the oriental décor of her front hallway, Erica Sarzin-Borrillo's Agnes—dragon-lady and matriarch; elegant of mind and bearing—is a match for Claire made in theatre heaven.

Photo of Deborah Persoff as Claire and Ed Baierlein as Tobias
Deborah Persoff as Claire
and Ed Baierlein as Tobias
Photo: Germinal Stage Denver
Mediating these on-going pyrotechnics is Agnes' husband, Tobias, who wisely keeps his words few and considered. Pipe-smoking, anisette-sipping Ed Baierlein measures Tobias' pleasures with masterful timing, reaching his zenith in the well-lubricated third act, when it falls on him to make "the decision."

Friends of Tobias and Agnes for forty years, Harry and Edna put that relationship to the test. Soft-spoken and deliberate, Michael Leopard's Harry is a natural confidant of the circumspect Tobias.

As was the fashion, Edna lets Harry make the decisions, but she is perfectly capable of a stinging rebuke á la Claire. Maintaining an equanimity that belies her fierce calculations, Margaret Amateis Casart's Edna shows herself to be Albee's ace-in-the-hole—and not a moment too soon—as she stands alone against Julia, Tobias and Agnes' daughter.

On the ropes from her fourth marriage, Julia quickly slips into her familial niche as the petulant child. Fluent in, and impatient with, the studied worldliness cultivated by her family, Katharyn Grant's Julia ferociously defends her birthright, in doing so calling into question the values by which she was raised.

As the argument comes to a head, we see that Albee has cleverly withheld key information until we have committed ourselves otherwise, forcing us to question our own assumptions about what is truly valuable. Then, after gut-wrenching deliberations, Tobias' decision and the denouement bring us to recognize what a delicate balance this life is.

Germinal Stage Denver's thoughtful and well-crafted production of A Delicate Balance runs through March 5th. 303-455-7108.

Bob Bows


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