March 20, 2008

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Albee at MRT
The Merrimack Repertory brings in top cast for Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

“Oh Agnes, why don’t you die?”

Claire’s retort to her sister is short and to the point in Edward Albee’s 1966 play A Delicate Balance. Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass., held opening night for a production of it Sunday, March 15, just a few days after Albee’s 80th birthday.

Agnes opines about the burden of alcoholics, and assumes that her sister is one. “What I cannot stand is the selfishness! Those of you who want to die ... and take your whole lives doing it,” she says.

Albee won his first of three Pulitzers for the play, and didn’t leave a hero in the bunch in this peek into the lives of a middle-aged Connecticut couple whose home is filling with friends and family on the brink of losing their minds.

Is it impending death, or the feeling of being trapped, or the realization that you are alone and have been, that is making everyone go mad?

Albee is credited with bringing absurdist theater to America with his 1958 play The Zoo Story. His best-known title might be Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Albee creates plenty of questions in this dialogue-based play — like why do Agnes and Tobias house Claire? And when the audience is given partial answers, there are still questions.

The play opens with just Agnes and Tobias enjoying nightcaps, Tobias saying little, Agnes going on in her articulate and cutting manner.

It felt like it could be a painful play to watch until Claire was introduced. She’s Agnes’s opposite, dressed in more of a mod 1960s fashion while Agnes looks like an Agnes. The Claire character provides the entertainment, and while sometimes she works to distract the household from a fight or the truth, other times she can be just as cruel, and with more flourish, as the others. Claire has information she keeps silent — that Tobias and his best friend Harry had affairs with the same girl years ago. Agnes might call it family duty to “take in” alcoholic Claire, but there might be other reasons Claire lives off Tobias’ charity.

Strangely, at the end of the first act, friends Harry and Edna come to the house, uninvited and unannounced, to stay. They are frightened.

By the second act I could believe that Harry was frightened of something, but Edna proved herself a scary dictator in a scene in which she calmly told Agnes and Tobias’ daughter Julia that Edna and Harry had more right to move in to Julia’s childhood room than Julia did.

Julia is “home from the wars,” as Aunt Claire puts it, on divorce number four at age 36. It almost felt like Gloria Biegler was over- dramatizing the role, whining and carrying on, until the evil Edna, played coolly by Jill Tanner, had a line about Julia rising “like a silent film star” to defend her parents’ liquor shelf. Tanner appeared on Broadway in Simon Gray’s Butley with Nathan Lane and in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.

With a full house, Agnes and Tobias are forced to share the same room and bed for the night. Edna and Harry also sleep in separate beds. Harry is played by Ross Bickell, who has appeared in The Drawer Boy at MRT, and his TV work includes appearances on Chappelle’s Show.

The acting, as usual with MRT, was well done. All the actors for this performance have Broadway, film and TV credits. Penny Fuller, who played Claire, appeared in All The President’s Men. Jack Davidson, who played Tobias, and Jennifer Harmon, who played Agnes, both appeared in Albee’s Seascape on Broadway.

While Claire is the appointed alcoholic in the play, every scene involves one or more of the characters’ needing a drink. It’s a good thing the Merrimack Repertory allows patrons to bring wine from the concession stand into the theater; otherwise the audience might get thirsty with all the talk of cognac and martinis.

And while MRT is a great venue, it shares the same building — and the same bathrooms, it turns out — with the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Intermission collided with that of the “Lord of the Dance” tour visiting March 15. Several MRT patrons who got stuck in restroom lines had to watch the second act from the back.

Merrimack Repertory Theater continues its run of A Delicate Balance at 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 4:30 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through April 5, with a closing 2 p.m. performance Sunday, April 6, at 50 East Merrimack St., Lowell, Mass., (978) 654-4678, merrimackrep.org. Ticket costs range from $28 to $56. Student tickets cost $15.


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3/6/2008 Murder and rhinos
2/28/2008 The art of theater criticism
2/21/2008 Breaking the cycle
2/14/2008 Curtain Calls
2/7/2008 NH Theatre awards sixth year
1/31/2008 Elvis fans and ghost stories
1/24/2008 Building an audience
1/17/2008 Curtain Calls
1/10/2008 Fate of Annicchiarico
1/3/2008 A little confidence
12/27/2007 Stage notables in 2007
12/20/2007 If all they want for Christmas is two good seats ...
12/13/2007 Summer stock vs. southern NH
12/06/2007 Curtain Calls
11/29/2007 Curtain Calls
11/22/2007 Broadway composer and actress hit Granite State
11/15/2007 One-man play turns audience into students
11/8/2007 Curtain calls
11/1/2007 First times
10/25/2007 Curtain Calls
10/18/2007 Curtain Calls
10/11/2007 American History
10/04/2007 Active in the community
9/27/2007 Stringing single
9/20/2007 Curtain Calls
9/13/2007 Free range
9/6/2007 Curtain Calls
8/30/2007 Curtain Calls
8/23/2007 Curtain Calls
8/16/2007 Curtain Calls
8/9/2007 Curtain Calls
8/2/2007 That deaf, dumb and blind kid
7/26/2007 Potty humor
7/19/2007 Ease on down the road
7/12/2007 Jekyll vs. Hyde
7/5/2007 If it's free, it's for me
6/28/2007 Transformations
6/21/2007 Curtain calls
6/14/2007 No really, you'll get it
6/7/2007 Curtain calls
5/31/2007 Curtain calls
5/24/2007 Putting the camp in camp
5/17/2007 Curtain Calls
5/10/2007 Curtain Calls
5/3/2007 Curtain Calls
4/26/2007 Still going strong
4/19/2007 Vietnam the the Palace
4/12/2007 Confluence
4/5/2007 First look
3/29/2007 Reluctant star
3/15/2007 In a town far away
3/8/2007 Curtain calls
3/1/2007 Into the future
2/22/2007 But will it play in New Hampshire
2/15/2007 Curtain calls
2/8/2007 Family affair
2/1/2007 Curtain calls
1/25/2007 Curtain calls
1/18/2007 Curtain calls
1/11/2007 Curtain calls
1/4/2007 Fork in the road
12/28/2006 Standout performances of '06
12/21/2006 Curtain Calls
12/14/2006 Players remember Peter Bridges
12/07/2006 Young talent
11/30/2006 Lighthearted farce for the holidays
11/23/2006 Curtain Calls
11/16/2006 Good theater
11/9/2006 Preview roundup
11/2/2006 Access to the ancients
10/26/2006 Aida on a Nashua stage
10/19/2006 Children of a Lesser God brilliantly played
10/12/2006 A true love triangle
10/05/2006 Curtain Calls
09/28/2006 Bringing people back to life
09/21/2006 Getting judged
09/14/2006 Long strange journey
09/07/2006 Curtain Calls
08/31/2006 Curtain Calls
08/24/2006 Putting kids in charge
08/17/2006 Curtain Calls
08/10/2006 All theater, all summer
08/03/2006 A Jesus musical, reworked
07/27/2006 A match made in Maine
07/20/2006 Variations on a theme
07/13/2006 I Hate Hamlet
07/06/2006 Serious theater
06/29/2006 L.A. in Peterborough
06/22/2006 Da Vinci to Rube Goldberg
06/15/2006 Peter Bridges remembered
06/08/2006 From Hairspray to monkeys
06/01/2006 Special Theatrics
05/25/2006 Live Brit-com
05/18/2006 Evil stepsisters earn the yuks
05/11/2006 A message to mom
05/04/2006 Meet the cast
04/27/2006 'I hope i get it'
04/20/2006 Find yourself in Yonkers
04/13/2006 Nashua rocks The Wiz
04/06/2006 Nashua rocks The Wiz
03/30/2006 Cabaret is Mnchester bound
03/23/2006 A 42nd Street detour
03/16/2006 Actor-director wants your ideas
02/23/2006 Yellow Taxi's Theater Festival opens March 1
02/16/2006 Herding CATS
02/09/2006 An actors' studio
02/02/2006 A thing about love
01/26/2006 Spring theater season warming up
01/19/2006 Gearing up for the big night
01/12/2006 This Phantom is not a menace
01/05/2006 Jim Kelly, sci-fi writer and alternate historian
10th anniversary at Capitol Center
10 Ways To Survive The Audition
A Chorus Line
A Figaro Worth Cheering
A 'Living Newspaper' on stage
A tale of two wives
A Tribute To Music
Actorsingers Deliver On Superstar
Beauty and the Beast
Bedford Off-Broadway Gets Spooky
Being The Beatles, 1964 The Tribute
Bringing NYC to Wilton
Creating the venue from antiques
Crimes Of The Heart
Curtain to rise on Dana Center
Dana Center Takes Center Stage
Ensemble elevates Palace’s Godspell
From stage to the silver screen
Great play, too bad it’s over
Greater Tuna
Humble Boy
It’s cabaret, hear it sing, joke, tease
It's Child's Play
Jesus Christ Superstar
Kids Tackle Edgar Allan Poe
Local boy hits the big time, doesn’t lose his head
Lowell theater opens with a winner of a satire
Madco welcomes Boston actor-director
Meet John Sefel, Director
Meet Suzanne Delle, Yellow Taxi’s driver
Music Man to run three weekends
New Thalian Players
Palace announces 2005-06 season
Peterborough Players’ Solidarity is solid gold
Plaid
Plaid (II)
Playing with man’s best friend
Proud of the Peacock
Racy, crazy blast at the Palace
Reviving His Passion
Robert Dionne, The man behind the Majestic
Rosemary Dann
Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know
Short-Attention Span Theater
Side Show
Sideshow slips sideways
Spending The Summer On Stage
Stages of learning
Steel Magnolias
Suessical: The Musical
Theater Of The Imagination
Theater Kids Without A School
Theater in the park draws big
The Drawer Boy
The Festival
The Five best shows of 2005
The Prisoner Of Second Avenue
The Russian/American Kids Circus
The Senator Wore Pantyhose
The Tony Awards, they're grrrrreat
The Warmth Of The Cold
Three nights, three shows at the Palace
Tosca

Under the Caribbean with the little mermaid

Wake up to ‘night Mother