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An emotionally astute 'Delicate Balance' at the Odyssey

An emotionally astute 'Delicate Balance' at the Odyssey
David Selby and Susan Sullivan star in "A Delicate Balance" at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. (Enci Box)

Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance," which won the 1967 Pulitzer, was written at a time of unparalleled American preeminence and prosperity. That's reflected in its characters, well-to-do navel-gazers of the most self-indulgent stripe.

As a period piece, "Balance" is a fascinating examination of an endangered American class. When set in the far less prosperous present day, as is the case with the play's current revival at the Odyssey, the general atmosphere of self-absorption can wear thin.

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Alcohol figures freely in the unfolding drama, which transpires on Tom Buderwitz's subtly appointed set. Leigh Allen's delicate lighting completes the picture of old-money affluence.

Retired businessman Tobias (David Selby) and his wife Agnes (Susan Sullivan) share their home with Agnes' alcoholic sister Claire (O-Lan Jones), who is a constant disruption in the imperious Agnes' tightly controlled domestic microcosm.

Another disruption is Agnes and Tobias' spoiled daughter Julia (Deborah Puette), who is returning home after the failure of her fourth marriage. When the couple's best friends Harry (Mark Costello) and Edna (Lily Knight), gripped by an unnamed "terror," announce that they are moving in with Agnes and Tobias permanently, a moral crisis ensues as Tobias contemplates the obligations -- and boundaries -- of friendship.

In her emotionally astute staging, director Robin Larsen sets her dream cast loose upon Albee's fascinating, frustrating material, which ranges from the boozily meandering to the brilliant.

Puette, Costello and Knight blend neediness and appalling entitlement in their respective roles, while Jones is hilarious as a feisty drunk who punctures the prevalent malaise with defiant playfulness.

Yet it is stage and screen vets Selby and Sullivan who are most riveting as an embattled couple holding down their domestic fort against the enemy without -- and within. If you can weather the play's leisurely and indeterminate angst, you will be richly rewarded by their vivid performances.

“A Delicate Balance,” Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 21 and June 4 only, 8 p.m. Thursdays, May 8, 15, 29 and June 12 only, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends June 15. $30. (310) 477-2055 Ext. 2. www.OdysseyTheatre.com Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

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