Entertainment & Arts

‘A Delicate Balance': A look back at the Katharine Hepburn movie version

“A Delicate Balance,” Edward Albee’s 1966 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about emotional repression in an upper-crust WASP family, is once again a hot ticket on Broadway thanks to the new, starry revival production with Glenn Close and John Lithgow.

Tickets for the new revival, which opened Thursday at the John Golden Theatre in New York, have sold for as much as $323 during the preview period. For those on a more limited budget and travel schedule, the DVD of the 1973 film adaptation may offer a more accessible alternative.

Starring Katharine Hepburn as Agnes, an icy matriarch who is scared of losing her mind, the screen version is word-for-word faithful to Albee’s play. (It was made as part of the short-lived American Film Theatre series from producer Ely Landau.) The movie was directed by Tony Richardson and shot in Great Britain, substituting for a vaguely New England setting.

In an interview included on the DVD, Albee said that he originally wanted Ingmar Bergman to direct the movie, but the Swedish auteur wasn’t available. The playwright has also recounted friction between Hepburn and actress Kim Stanley, who was originally cast as Claire, Agnes’ alcoholic (“a alcoholic”) sister.


Stanley, who by some accounts was behaving erratically, was replaced during the movie’s rehearsal period with actress Kate Reid. The cast also includes Paul Scofield as Agnes’ withdrawn husband, Tobias, and Lee Remick as their oft-divorced daughter, Julia.

Albee’s textually dense play has had a number of notable revivals since it was first performed, including the lauded 1996 Lincoln Center production with Rosemary Harris and Elaine Stritch, and a 1997 London staging with Eileen Atkins and Maggie Smith.

A 2013 revival from the McCarter Theatre in Princeton starred Kathleen Chalfant and John Glover.

The movie version received sharply divided reviews upon its release in 1973, with some criticizing it as stagy, though Roger Ebert praised it at the time, writing that the “cast could hardly be better.”


On the DVD, Albee recounts that he got on well with Hepburn, who by that time had already cemented her position as a cinematic legend with three Oscars (and another to come). The playwright also recalls that he was sporting a shaggy coiffe that was popular at the time, which prompted the movie star to tell him that he should get a haircut.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT

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