News Stories / A Delicate Balance Is Indelicately Delicious


By Mark Howell


It immediately becomes clear within the first few minutes of Edward Albee’s Pulitzer-prize winning “A Delicate Balance” that Monnie King, Peter King and Tammy Shanley in the lead roles will be utterly thrilling throughout.



Performed in the half-round in an enormous ground-floor room at the Key West Custom House, the play never loses its fibrillating pace with the entire cast’s performance being beyond outstanding. This is a play that includes an accordion and a gun, so be warned. (“Oh, shoot him!” laughed a neighbor in the audience as one of the characters began stripping apart his inner being.)



What is it about Albee? And what is it about American male geniuses like Carver and Cheever and Hemingway who write about alcohol? The liquor cabinet in this production of “A Delicate Balance” is just inches away from the front curve of the audience and it is fully employed throughout.



Agnes (Monnie King) and Tobias (Peter King) and their permanent houseguest, Agnes’ alcoholic sister, Claire (Tammy Shanley), are visited by lifelong friends Harry (Richard Grusin, brilliantly out of breath) and his wife Edna (Kathy Russ, hauntingly frustrated) who are sweet purveyors of, well, terror. Invited to stay the night, their presence enrages the already visiting Julia (Caroline Taylor, excellent in a difficult, but sympathetic role), who is Agnes’ and Tobias’ fraught 36-year-old daughter, returning home after the collapse of her fourth marriage to find strangers in her room.



Fringe resident director Dennis Zacek, who has directed more than 250 plays nationally, brings all of this cleverly together with a flawless touch. It’s a play, he says, that “explores the rights and responsibilities of family and the rights and responsibilities of friendship.”



That’s a delicate balance for sure. Tobias, for example, calls Harry his “best friend in the whole world” while his wife is drawn to ask, “Does that make you sad?” To Agnes, sensations of joy in life have become mere suntan as opposed to “scalding.” Tobias agrees with her that perhaps their best option is to retire to Tucson and live to 104.



For the drama’s audience, the good life is spelled out in great speech. There are two particularly fine soliloquies in “A Delicate Balance.”  Tobias’ famed one about a cat — Albee, who is not an alcoholic although he has misbehaved in public, was likely writing of another creature altogether in this — is masterfully done by  Peter King, who has now succeeded in making it one of our favorite pieces in all theater. Another great passage is Agnes’ calm but bitter  rant about what constitutes a “woman in the home,” bringing forth all of Monnie King’s skill at being both deep and fragile. She also has a piece to say about the plague that chillingly brings out another side in the character.



There is, yes, mention of a dead baby (remember Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) plus the kind of extended repartee (“Virginia Woolf” again) that goes further than funny to something else entirely: “Truth will get you nowhere, for example.”



“A Delicate Balance” is ambitiously long but playfully flirts throughout with a necessary and realistic conclusion, ultimately mouthed by Tobias: “What are we going to do about everything? Throw the whole family out?”



The last act, thanks to the level of acting and directing by the Fringe’s very fine repertory company, brings the audience to the precipice and takes them over.



Are you ready for it?


Say yes!



By the way, Dahlia Woods painted the autumnal New England countryside backdrop that can be seen when the setting’s front door opens to the outside.



The play continues at the Key West Custom House to March 1, and from March 6 through 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets at $35 may be purchased at or 305-295-776.



Westin Key West Resort and Marina offers complimentary parking (for performance nights only) to Fringe ticket holders.

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