Showing posts with label Edward Albee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edward Albee. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Time Happens

Some might go to Times Square or the virtual equivalent to celebrate the New Year, but the night before we celebrated by seeing, again, A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee at Dramaworks in West Palm Beach, taking our son Jonathan, and his friend, Anna.  We normally see the previews of Dramaworks' productions, but Bill Hayes, the Producing Artistic Director of the Theatre and the Director of this particular production challenged us to see the play later in its run.  One can indeed see its maturation as a drama, especially the complex dialogue and character interaction coming even more together. But as a philosophical statement, it had the same profound impact on me, about families and about life.  I shuttered when Agnes says, "Time happens, I suppose,... To people ... Everything becomes...too late, finally. You know it's going on ... up the hill; you can see the dust, and hear the cries, and the steel ... but you wait; and time happens. When you do go, sword, shield ... finally ... there's nothing there ... save rust; bones; and the wind."

Those words came flooding back to me as the New Year began on a heartbreaking note, learning that a friend is entering hospice.  Too upsetting to write about now, but this panoramic photograph sort of expresses my feeling, one I had remembered taking earlier in the year when a "Supermoon" was rising in May.  There are spectacular images of this event on the web, the moon truly dominating the landscape, but this one is the opposite, conveying the vastness of our world, and, ultimately, the solitary nature of our journey. Time happens....

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Delicate Balance -- Vanishing the Impossible

 By now we have all been exposed to the famous first line of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina,  "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  If that is the case, great American drama is built on the unhappy family with Eugene O'Neill perhaps being the master and following in his footsteps  Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, and others.  And when one looks over the offerings of Dramaworks over the years, some of their finest productions are such family dramas, most recently All My Sons, The Effect of GammaRays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, and the forthcoming, A Raisin in the Sun.  I suppose writing a drama about a happy family, would be drama-less, so what's the sense?

This might be Albee's most enigmatic work, with long sometimes disjointed monologues, perhaps less explosive than Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but with a deep, deep undertow of modern-day family angst. Tobias and Agnes, living their upper class existence in 1960's suburban Connecticut, along with Agnes' alcoholic sister, Claire, suddenly have visitors, their old and close friends, Harry and Edna. Their friends are in an existential plight, fleeing some unexpected terror in their own home. They have come to move in -- permanently.  And into the pot let's stir the arrival of Julia, Tobias' and Agnes' thirty six year old infantile daughter who is returning home after her fourth divorce. (They had a son who died in childhood, just another element in the family's dark past.)  It is the perfect mix for the kind of edgy drama that distinguishes the work of one of our greatest playwrights.

And it is from these damaged characters that the drama springs, so dependent on the performances of the actors. In that regard, as we learned at the "Knowledge and Nibbles luncheon" before last night's preview performance, Albee, even at the age of 84, has not relinquished much control over his plays.  He has final say over the selection of actors, the design of the set, and the venue of course, wanting the most professional environment possible. At that same luncheon it was pointed out that Albee said "When you’re writing a play, you’re attempting the impossible. When you’re directing it, you must do only what is possible, and the impossible must vanish."

So, did Dramaworks vanish the impossible? It is a "delicate balance" between the playwright and the performing team to make a theatrical masterpiece, and Albee and Dramaworks have all the right stuff.  Albee's dark view of the human condition emerges with absurdest clarity.

And a word about the set by Michael Amico, an anesthetically perfectly proportioned living room/library in a staid Connecticut home, the bar being a focal point, downstage right. It is of course the first thing the audience takes in as it is being seated, setting a mental marker for what unfolds.

Albee throws down the gauntlet with Agnes saying "I find most astonishing the belief that I may, very easily, as they say, lose my mind one day."  Tobias replies while mixing a drink (there are countless drinks mixed and consumed during the production): "We will all go mad before you."  One gets the sense as the first act unfolds that the entire family is mad at the starting gate.  In fact, the play ends the following morning with Agnes making reference to those opening lines, noting that it is a new day.  It might be on the calendar, but their lives go on as before.

There are so many themes in the play, particularly the nature of love and friendship.  Is friendship love?  Does one have to love one's own blood?  What are the obligations of love? At one point, Claire says to Agnes,  "Tobias loves you, you love Julia, Julia loves me, and I love Tobias."  Maybe a Venn Diagram would reveal that there is some kind of "love" between the two sisters, Claire and Agnes, but Claire has already said she would like to see Agnes dead.  But perhaps that emotion can be construed as a loving gesture in the context of this play.  One only has to listen to Tobias' disturbing monologue about a cat that fell out of love with him and he had put to sleep.

The Broadway veteran Maureen Anderman plays the highly controlled, haughty, Agnes, delivering her acerbic wit with great ease.  Her relationship with her sister, Claire, vacillates from an uneasy truce on the one hand to her attacks on her alcoholism: "If you want to die, don't take your whole life doing it."  Claire is brilliantly played by the Dramaworks veteran, Angie Radosh, who in spite of her serious drinking is probably the sanest person in the play, somewhat inhabiting the role of a Greek Chorus.  Another Dramaworks old hand, Dennis Creaghan, plays Tobias, capturing a man in the middle of this family/friend crisis, bewildered by it all, expected, as the man of the house to resolve the issue, culminating in one of the most contradictory and demanding monologues in American theatre when confronting his friend, Harry.  Rounding out the cast are Anne Bates as the daughter, Julia, who always seems to prefer the "comfort" of her dysfunctional family to any of her spouses, and two other Dramaworks pros, Laura Turnbull as Edna and Rob Donohoe as Harry play their roles of lost, bewildered, anxiety infested (no, "plague contaminated" as accused by Agnes) "friends" to a tee, friends who insist they have "rights."

Searing and disturbing, but with rich, nonlinear language that really warrants reading the script to more fully understand it, this might not be a play for everyone, but in the annals of American theatre it doesn't get much better than a work by Edward Albee and a production of it by Dramaworks. You will never meet more disconnected characters on one stage, but the Director, Bill Hayes, pull them together in this haunting production. Perplexing at all times, A Delicate Balance taps the angst in us all. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Three Tall Women Stand Tall

I guess this is becoming a routine – “reviewing” plays presented by Dramaworks before the critics – based on the first preview performance. Therefore, to be fair to Dramaworks, their talented directors, staff, and actors, I will repeat what Bill Hayes, Dramaworks’ Producing Artistic Director, said before the show: “a preview is a rehearsal.” And, indeed, last night Beth Dixon who carried the main role of “A” in the play, did call out “line” to the prompter a couple of times, but this was done so within context of her monologue, I would bet that there were members of the audience who were not even aware it was happening.

The other evidence of it being a preview was the play’s director, J. Barry Lewis, who I noted was sitting in the back, taking copious notes during the performance, presumably to identify subtle tweaks he would still like to make but, to this untrained eye, I can’t imagine where the room might be for substantial improvement.

Dramaworks bills itself as “Theater to Think About.” In my case, particularly with this production of Three Tall Women, it’s more like theatre that thinks about me. Maybe it is their knack for choosing pieces, or it’s the fact that anyone from a dysfunctional family (the “me” in this case), by definition, comes from a “story” of what makes interesting theatre. What point is the point writing about characters not in conflict, those who do not feel wounded, and who are not constantly striving for redemption?

With Three Tall Women, a 1994 Pulitzer price winning play, Albee comes to grips with his adoptive mother, and the process and mystery of ageing, so it is both a very personal work for the playwright and a philosophical tour de force about the universality of life’s inexorable path. The three female characters, “A,” “B” and “C” in the first act are three distinctive characters, an elderly woman, her caretaker, and her attorney’s representative, aged 92 (or 91), 52, and 26. In the second act they become the three faces of the same person (A) at different stages of her life, speaking to one another about her (their) life, recounting many of the regrets and some of the happiness. It is a platform for recriminations, at one emotional high point in the play, A, B, and C “denying” each other as well as A’s son who makes a speechless appearance at his mother’s deathbed. It is the perfect conceit for Albee to come to an emotional reconciliation about his own life.

It is also the perfect vehicle for Albee’s thoughts on the vicissitudes of aging, the loss of friends, either through death or simply change, The twenty six year old version (C) is particularly horrified to learn what awaits her in the future, wondering “why aren’t we told?” (about ageing, illness and dying) to which B’s response is “if we were taught that in school, the streets would be littered with adolescent corpses.”

Dramaworks captures this work beautifully, passionately, powerfully, the three actors Beth Dixon (A), Angie Radosh (B), and Gen Rae (C) at the top of their game. Beth Dixon has the most difficult role, having to carry most of the dialogue in the first act. Radosh’s and Rae’s performances are memorable and distinctive as well. Chris Marks makes a moving appearance as “The Boy,” the speechless recipient of his mother’s derision. Although this was a preview, it had great pacing, not one self-conscious moment on stage, a tribute to the directing of J. Barry Lewis. This is the kind of play that could be effective even as a reading, but Dramaworks has gone all out with wonderful scenic and costume designs.

It is amazing that Three Tall Women comes on the heels of the soaring production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo. One wonders how Dramaworks can have such repeated successes. It begins with their selection of properties; indeed, theatre to think about. (Next season’s plays include Candida, Freud’s Last Session, Dinner With Friends, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane.) Then the execution is flawless, Dramaworks always finding superb actors and support crew. There is also the intimate space of their theatre, which makes the audience feel part of the production. Hopefully, when the theatre finds a larger venue, that sense will be preserved.

My thanks go to Dramaworks for bringing great theatre to southern Florida!