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‘A Delicate Balance' for dedicated Albee fans only

By Autumn D. F. Hopkins

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The talented actors of the Alban Arts Center give a technically satisfying presentation of the lesser-known Edward Albee play, "A Delicate Balance." However, upon viewing this production and not just reading the piece in an anthology, one can see why it is generally relegated to the sidelines of modern theater.

Frankly, it is awful.

It is a two-hour study in everything that is wrong with humanity, replete with characters' intensive navel-gazing monologues that go on and on until the audience has lost the very thread of the reason the character began speaking.

Six people, with seemingly no human compassion and zero interest in anything outside their immediate skin, orbit around each other oblivious to the concerns of their immediate family and neighbors. Characters break down on the stage, literally lying on the floor, while the other characters endlessly monologue around them.

Weighty innuendos are made throughout the play that seem to hint at some deep underlying chasm aching just beneath the surface, but instead of being explored through dialogue, the issues are hinted at and then quickly glossed over in favor of yet another soliloquy on personal reflection of innate character flaws. Every cast member seems to play a character lost in the abyss of his or her own self-absorption.

The lack of eye contact among the cast, whether intentional or an organic byproduct of the especially disconnected dialogue, was particularly uncomfortable. Cast members' seeming inability to maintain eye contact with the person to whom they were speaking further increased the feel that the play is just a large assortment of loosely connected monologues strung together somewhat haphazardly.

As an audience member one gets the uneasy feeling this is supposed to somehow be funny when, in fact, it is merely painful and at times extremely disturbing. Even the most likeable of the characters, Tobias (Mark Felton), although seemingly benign and kindly, reveals himself through lengthy monologue to be a heinous animal abuser.

There are some funny zingers, mostly delivered by Claire (Melanie Larch), the pretend-alcoholic sister. These are almost exclusively at the expense of some other character's shortcomings or seeming inadequacies, all the while implying that her brand of self-destruction is by choice and this should somehow lend more virtue to her character.

The acting is adequate -- clearly they are all very talented -- but the script is horrid and left very little to work with. It falls short of ever exploring any of the interesting things that are heavily hinted at.

For example, neighbors Edna and Harry (TiAnna Toney-Billups and Rob Boone) abruptly move in due to some "terror," but at no point does any other character inquire as to what that might be. Instead, they all immediately begin to reflect upon how this inconveniences them personally.

As an audience member, one very much has the feeling of living in the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes." Only in this case, instead of the blatantly missing item being clothing, it is humor. Everyone knows it really is not funny, but spurts of laughter popped up here and there, and then the rest of the audience felt compelled to laugh uncomfortably.

One gets the feeling the play was intended to be much funnier than what it was, but the characters are so unlikable and the interaction so deliberately stilted, it comes off as just awkward, only rarely and vaguely funny.

I suppose there are Albee fans out there who love this kind of intense self-absorption. I am not one of them. However, if you are, "A Delicate Balance" runs at 8 p.m. Saturday and May 3-4 and 2 p.m. Sunday and May 5.


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