Cocktails, Accordions & Shared DNA: Chart the History of A Delicate Balance

first_img The Making of a Playwright In the artistic hotbed of 1940s New York, Albee met celebrated poet W.H. Auden, who then arranged a meeting with Thornton Wilder. Albee was writing poetry at the time, but after reading his work, the famous Our Town playwright suggested that Albee consider becoming a dramatist. “I don’t think he saw the incipient dramatist in my poems,” Albee told The Telegraph in 2011, “I think he was trying to save poetry from me.” Albee’s first play The Zoo Story opened in Berlin in 1958, but it was his scorching 1962 drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that secured his place in American theater history. Edward Albee turned the drawing room comedies and dramas of the 1950s upside-down with his brilliantly brutal works, including the blistering one-act The Zoo Story and his game-changing barnburner Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But it wasn’t until 1967 that he garnered his first Pulitzer Prize for A Delicate Balance. Wealthy, WASPy older couple Agnes and Tobias live in suburbia with Agnes’ hard-drinking sister Claire, but things are thrown into chaos by the arrival of their daughter Julia, whose fourth marriage has crumbled, and their friends Harry and Edna, who are fleeing from an unnamed terror in their home. Read up on this play before it opens at the Golden Theatre on November 20, directed by Pam MacKinnon and starring Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Lindsay Duncan, Martha Plimpton, Bob Balaban and Clare Higgins. Big Shoes to Fill After a 1973 movie with Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield earned decent reviews but very little love in the awards department, a 1996 Broadway revival fared better. George Grizzard and Rosemary Harris were well-received as Tobias and Agnes, but it was Elaine Stritch as the boozy, accordion-playing, truth-telling Claire who left her mark (as always) on the show’s juiciest role. In the new revival, three-time Tony winner Glenn Close chose not to compete with the memory of Stritch’s performance; that honor instead goes to acclaimed British actress Lindsay Duncan. “I wouldn’t begrudge Elaine Stritch anything,” Duncan told the L.A. Times. She’s one of your legends, and as far as I’m concerned, she can have it all. Thankfully, I can only do the Claire that I can do.” When Stars Align While the number of Awards—Tony, Olivier, Emmy, Golden Globe—among this cast is staggering, no one is resting on their laurels. “All of us have come to the moment where you sink to you knees and roll on the floor,” Close said on The Today Show of working on Albee’s play. But the challenges were worth it—the production that lured Close back to Broadway for the first time in 17 years is drawing audiences in record numbers. It’s not easy to get a full cast of marquee names, so we’re guessing they all share’s Bob Balaban’s delight at being a member of this ensemble: “With the play, the director and the cast,” he said, “I’d be happy to just move scenery.” View Comments Write What You Know When Albee started writing A Delicate Balance, he ended up right back in the WASPy world he escaped—Harry and Edna were even based on a real couple of the same name who were friends of his parents. According to Albee, the play “has to do with that class, and that social and political structure that I grew up around, unfortunately, and left as soon as I could.” A Delicate Balance opened on Broadway on September 23, 1966 starring real-life married couple Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as Tobias and Agnes, Rosemary Murphy as Claire and Marian Seldes as Julia. After mixed reviews, Seldes was the only one to walk away with a trophy on Tony night in 1967, but we’re guessing Albee wasn’t too disappointed. He’d already won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for drama, an award many felt was overdue. Virginia Woolf had been up for a Pulitzer in ’63, but the committee deemed it insufficiently “uplifting”; several jurors resigned in protest. But A Delicate Balance wasn’t a consolation prize: “We were right then, and we’re right now,” said juror Mason Brown. To the Theater Born Albee came by his velvet-barbed language honestly. Born in 1928 in Washington, D.C., at under a month old he was adopted by a wealthy vaudeville heir and his socialite wife and moved to the ritzy town of Larchmont, NY. It wasn’t his natural environment. “When I was told that I was adopted I remember being rather relieved,” Albee told The Guardian. “I just didn’t feel that I belonged. And the older I got, the more I was able to observe the way they lived their lives and the more I was convinced that there was something very amiss there.” Young Albee was thrown out of several private schools and sent to the military academy; at 20, he left for good and found the home he’d been looking for in Greenwich Village. He never saw his father again, and it would be 17 years before he again saw his mother. Together Again In 1982, Glenn Close and John Lithgow became great friends while filming the screen adaptation of The World According to Garp. (Maybe they picked up a couple of tips on A Delicate Balance: Original stars Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy also starred in the film.) They both earned Oscar nods but haven’t worked together since, though their connection remains strong. “I’m the male Glenn Close, and she’s the female John Lithgow,” Lithgow told the New York Times, “In that we’re basically serious theater actors who have been lucky to find great material to play in film and television. We share DNA in a lot of ways, which can help create a marriage.” Related Shows A Delicate Balance Show Closed This production ended its run on Feb. 22, 2015last_img

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