Glenn Close returns to Broadway after an absence of many years, as Agnes to John Lithgow’s Tobias, a wealthy middle-aged couple whose seemingly serene suburban existence is revealed as a nightmare involving family and friends, in Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance,” which is opening tonight and scheduled to run at the John Golden Theater through February 22, 2015. The cast also features Bob Balaban, Lindsay Duncan, Claire Higgins, and Martha Plimpton.
Directed by Pam MacKinnon (who previously paired with Albee on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”), this is the third production of “A Delicate Balance” on Broadway. The original in 1966, starring Jessica Tandy and Hugh Cronyn, and featuring a Tony-winning performance by Marian Seldes as their spoiled daughter Julia, won for the playwright his first of (so far) three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama, even though critic Walter Kerr had called it “an elegantly lacquered empty platter.”
What do the current-day critics think of this production?
Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Albee is still what he always was, a wildly uneven author whose worst plays are so bad that it hardly seems possible that they were written by the same man who gave us the best ones. Where does “A Delicate Balance” fall on that spectrum? At its best, it’s thought-provoking and sometimes challenging, but it takes a long time to get moving, and I wonder whether modern-day audiences will be willing to wait for it. …Ms. Close’s performance is quiet, tasteful and underprojected, not surprising for an actor who has been absent from the stage for so long. Mr. Lithgow, by contrast, is in extraordinary form, by turns tightly inhibited and almost shockingly anguished.
Ben Brantley, New York Times As you would expect of these highly accomplished, multi-award-winning cast members, none of them are bad. But they’re giving us the play, instead of living it
Mark Kennedy AP a revival where everyone does great work
Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News, 4 out of 5 stars a very good production that’s cool, well-composed and captivating….Close, with her aristocratic take on Agnes, comes within inches of coming off as arch. That approach doesn’t hurt the character. But Close’s unintentional habit of tripping over Albee’s dialogue doesn’t help. Lithgow, meantime, is riveting every moment he’s on stage — which is a lot — even when Tobias is silent.
Elizabeth Vincentelli, NY Post, 2 1/2 stars out of 4: This new “A Delicate Balance” is like a Christmas fruitcake that’s been left out too long: It’s boozy and loaded with goodies — Glenn Close! John Lithgow! — but it’s also on the dry side….Lithgow is best when Tobias is playing along with the women in his life, but his big letting-it-all-out scene feels forced. And Close’s one-note, tight-lipped performance keeps the audience at arms’ length,
Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times: ….This is an ensemble effort, with no one performer stealing the show as Elaine Stritch did when she played Claire in the 1996 Lincoln Center Theatre revival. The performances are all sharp — Higgins’ Edna is especially crisp — but they’re still coalescing. This is the kind of work that will deepen over time.
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A Delicate Balance
Linda Winer, Newsday: although the play still dazzles with wit, gorgeous writing and the lurking terror of mortality, we miss the accumulating shock (the playwright) gave to the characters’ lives of cozy self-satisfaction (in a previous production.)…Lithgow is droll and manor-born as the retired Tobias, though we never believe he is as ineffectual as Agnes claims. Oddly, Close, who has three best-actress Tonys, seemed daunted at a recent preview by Agnes’ exhilarating but Olympian monologues. Stumbling over the words is a special problem for a silver fox who fancies herself the fulcrum of the family’s equilibrium. For reasons unknown, while designer Ann Roth dresses everyone else with an acute timeless conflation of the mid-’60s and today, Close’s Agnes is overdressed to distraction, lounging around the living-room in gowns and jewels….Nothing, alas, is delicate.
Marc Snetiker, Entertainment Weekly: B In her first leading Broadway appearance since 1994’s Sunset Boulevard, Glenn Close makes a comfy return to the stage as the self-important Agnes, whose self-pity is as dramatic as her pashminas. Close exudes the kind of veteran flair and magnetism you’d presume from such a marquee name. But although this seems to be Close’s marquee, it’s John Lithgow who runs away with the show
Jesse Green, New York Magazine Close, her eyes gleaming with Agnes’s useless intelligence, is superb with this material, totally believable as a lockjawed suburban virago. More fully even than Rosemary Harris, who played the role in the great 1996 revival, Close justifies Albee’s rewrite of the line “our dear Republicans, as dull as ever” to “as brutal as ever” for that production. Alas, he did not have to change it back for this one.
David Cote, Time Out New York: 4 stars out of 5…Pam MacKinnon directs this solid revival with a keen ear for the curling, teasing rhythms of Albee’s ornate lines, and the performances are top-notch, including the perfectly deadpan Balaban and a sinister Higgins as the unwelcome guests. Martha Plimpton finds sympathetic notes in the difficult, shrill role of Julia, and Close and Lithgow handle their tricky speeches with grace and nuance. If Close is a touch too frosty, she’s thawed by Lithgow’s warmth.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline Hollywood: the affable Tobias of John Lithgow smolders, bursts into flame and slowly grows cold. It’s as rich a performance as I’ve ever seen…Nothing in Pam MacKinnon’s finely calibrated but emotionally uneven and infrequently unnerving staging measures up to the sheer power of either Albee’s dramaturgy or Lithgow’s inhabitance of Tobias.
Matt Windman, AM New York: two stars out of four. surprisingly flat and likely to disappoint both those unfamiliar with the three-act play, as well as those who still remember its much acclaimed revival from two decades ago with Elaine Stritch and Rosemary Harris