“A Delicate Balance” Opens on Broadway

An Albee Masterwork with a Stellar Cast

a delicate balanceOn November 20, 2014, Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance opened at the John Golden Theatre. Directed by Pam MacKinnon (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Clybourne Park), who is known as the greatest contemporary interpreter of Albee’s works, the show has been running since its first preview on October 20, 2014. While Albee himself has solidified his status as a playwrights whose works are worth seeing, the success of this production is also due in no small part to the high stature of the cast. The lead roles of Agnes and Tobias are played by Glenn Close (Sunset Boulevard, The Real Thing) and John Lithgow (The Columnist, All My Sons) respectively, and their daughter Julia is played by Martha Plimpton (Pal Joey, Top Girls). Agnes’ alcoholic yet visionary sister Claire is played by Lindsay Duncan (Private Lives, A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and their surreally dependent friends Harry and Edna are played by Bob Balaban (Speed-the-Plow, The Inspector General) and Clare Higgins (Vincent in Brixton) respectively. In addition to the theatre credits of these actors, their pedigree extends deeply into the world of the screen, with some extremely well-known titles affixed to their names. In this richly profound and relatable play, these actors create an extremely appealing and accessible performance for theatregoers.

An Overall Positive Critical Response

Though not every reviewer was on their hands and knees bowing down to this production, several critics did present huge praise and a delicate balanceothers also saw great merit in the show. David Cote from Time Out New York calls this show a “parlor puzzler,” harking both to its accessibility taking place in the living room as well as its complex intrigue, declared the show full to bursting. Dave Quinn from NBC New York loved the show as well, especially praising Glenn Close’s triumphant return to Broadway after a 20 year hiatus. Charles McNulty of the Los Angeles Times also found the show to be a roaring success, praising the scenic design of Santo Loquasto as well as the richness of the comedic existentialist work. Ben Brantley of the New York Times was less fully sold on the production, agreeing more with critics following the 1966 premiere who were not comfortable declaring this one of Albee’s best works. Furthermore, Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal felt that the show is at best thought provoking but is ultimately a bit slow going, and therefore is not one of Albee’s most praiseworthy pieces. Nevertheless, the show did win the Pulitzer Prize following its 1966 production, showing that newspaper critics are not always on exactly the same page as other notable minds in the field.

A Financial Success

In the seven weeks that A Delicate Balance has been running in full eight performance weeks, is has done exceedingly well at the box office. In its first week of previews, the show was more than sold out, bringing in 102.25% of its gross potential with a gross of $884,596. Though it hasn’t done quite as well since, it has never dipped below 83.43% of the gross potential, and generally has been squarely in the 90% range. In the last recorded week – the week ending December 7, 2014 – the show brought in $873,152, representing 94.59% of its gross potential, with a top ticket price of $323.00 and an average paid admission of $143.33. This shows little to no discounting, as theatergoers are flocking to this treat of a play starring some of their favorite actors. In particular, Glenn Close must be a major draw, as she hasn’t performed live on Broadway for two decades. John Lithgow, on the other hand, was seen as recently as 2012 when he starred in The Columnist, which didn’t do quite as well financially.

“A Delicate Balance” Begins Previews on Broadway

Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize Winning Drama

a delicate balanceOn October 20, 2014, A Delicate Balance began previews at Broadway’s John Golden Theatre. Written by Edward Albee (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Seascape, The Goat or Who is Sylvia?), A Delicate Balance first premiered on Broadway in 1966, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama the following year. This is the play’s third revival; the second took place in 1996. This production is directed by Pam MacKinnon (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Clybourne Park), who has built her reputation as the preeminent interpreter of the works of Edward Albee. This is her second time producing one of his works on Broadway, but she also directed many Off-Broadway and regional productions of his work, including Peter and Jerry at Second Stage Theatre in 2007, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at Houston’s Alley Theatre in 2003, a previous production of A Delicate Balance in 2009 at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and Occupant at the Signature Theatre in 2008. Edward Albee’s work is frequently performed at the Off-Broadway Signature Theatre, as he is one of the five playwrights honored by being selected in their Residency Five program, through which he will have five productions of his plays over five years.

A Cast Full of Stars

The cast of this Broadway revival of A Delicate Balance includes Glenn Close as Agnes, John Lithgow as her husband Harry, Bob a delicate balance marqueeBalaban and Clare Higgins as their friends Harry and Edna, Lindsay Duncan as Agnes’ alcoholic sister Claire, and Martha Plimpton as Agnes and Tobias’ daughter Julia. Glenn Close is best known for her roles in such films as The Big Chill, 101 Dalmatians, Air Force One, and Dangerous Liaisons, but she has appeared on Broadway several times before in shows such as The Play What I Wrote (2003), Sunset Boulevard (1997), and Death and the Maiden (1992). Similarly, John Lithgow is known for his screen performances including the television show 3rd Rock from the Sun and movies such as Shrek and Rise of Planet of the Apes, but his Broadway credits are also numerous including The Columnist (2012), All My Sons (2008), and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (2005). In fact, all of these actors have been on Broadway before, and some of them many times. This is an example of a show that may be selling its tickets based on the fame of its cast, but the cast is not made up of movie stars trying their hand at Broadway; rather they are tried and true stage performers as much as they are movie stars.

A Brilliant and Surreal Play

The play opens in the home of Agnes and Tobias, a middle age couple who live with Agnes’ alcoholic sister Claire. Their adult daughter Julia has come home after a failed marriage – not her first. Meanwhile, their friends Harry and Edna come over in a state of terror; without explanation, they can no longer bear to live at their own home, and feel inclined to regress back to the womb. They are invited to stay as long as they like as houseguests, which Julia truly resents. Furthermore, Claire may be alcoholic, but at times she seems to have her head on straighter than do any of the others; her insights are often valuable contributions to the story’s progress. In general, Agnes and Tobias fret about the possibility of losing their minds. They drink and discuss their lives, and there is a continual sense of doom approaching – or alternatively, nothing happening at all, which is almost as bad. The play is written with a strong sense of realism, and yet there are surreal moments that creep up completely unexpected. As such, it succeeds in being a chilling and powerful drama that accessibly opens up introspection about the meaning of life.

“Mothers and Sons” To Close on June 22

Terrence McNally’s New Play Stars Tyne Daly

Mothers and Sons, a new play by Terrence McNally, has been running at Broadway’s Golden Theatre since February 23, 2014.  Starring Tyne Daly, a frequent McNally collaborator, this play opened on March 24, 2014 to fairly positive reviews.  The production was directed by Sheryl Kaller (Next Fall), produced by Tom Kirdahy and Roy Furman, and the cast also featured Bobby Steggert, Grayson Taylor, and Frederick Weller.  The play received two Tony Award nominations: Best Play, and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Tyne Daly.  However, soon after the Tony Awards played out and Mothers and Sons did not win any honors, the announcement was made that the show will close on June 22, 2013, having played 104 performances and 33 previews.

Mothers and Sons Broadway Show tyne daly

Mothers and Sons Broadway Show

Next Season, McNally Returns with “It’s Only a Play”

McNally is one of the few living playwrights whose work has proved the test of time, with his new plays still consistently being produced on Broadway, irrespective of their star power or recognizable brand titles.  Mothers and Sons is McNally’s 20th Broadway show, marking the 50 year anniversary of his work being shown on Broadway.  This is by no means the end of his streak, however, as next season his play It’s Only a Play will be revived starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, F. Murray Abraham, Megan Mullally, and Micah Stock.  Directed by Jack O’Brien, that new production will begin previews in the fall at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, with an opening night set for October 9, 2014.  That is sure to be an exciting production, as it will reunite Lane and Broderick who co-starred in the celebrated 2001 Broadway hit The Producers, not to mention the rest of its stupendous cast and creative team.

Financial Woes

Mothers and Sons has been struggling financially for some time, never earning much more than 30% of its gross potential since it began performances.  With an average ticket price around $65, the production has been offering heavy discounts throughout its run.  In the week ending June 8, 2014, the show only grossed $197,920, which is only 25.79% of its gross potential, and it filled up to only 43.9% of its audience capacity.  It must have been holding out for the Tony Awards, and when it did not win any, it cut its losses and announced closing.

Critical Performance

Like many of McNally’s plays, Mothers and Sons deals with concepts of homosexuality and AIDS.  It is the story of Katharine Gerard (played by Tyne Daly), who lost her son to AIDS 20 years ago, and now decides to visit her son’s partner Cal (Frederick Weller), who has since married a man named Will (Bobby Steggert).  Ben Brantley of The New York Times was lukewarm in his review, opining that the play’s intellectual debate overshadowed its emotional effects.  Still, he commended Tyne Daly’s performance and the production for the unstated sorrow beneath the words.  Other reviewers, such as NBC New York, Time Out New York, and the Associated Press, all gave more positive reviews.  Still, the play was unable to compete in this difficult marketplace against much more crowd-pleasing titles.  Perhaps the next McNally show will fare better.