A Delicate Balance

While most other theater organizations are excitedly anticipating the opening of the 2007-08 arts season, Ventura Rubicon Theater Company is still working on one final play from ’06-’07. But the piece in question – Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” – is as weighty as any work you’ll find on any schedule anywhere.

Written four years after “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” “Balance” delves into similar terrain: the dysfunctional American family and how denial of emotions in a vain attempt to avoid confrontation and pain leads to ever greater turmoil and unease. But while “Balance” certainly enjoyed success on Broadway when it premiered in 1966, some critics viewed the play as a weak sister compared to “Woolf,” and considered its Pulitzer Prize merely a make-good for denying “Woof” the same award in 1962.

“If ‘Woolf’ is all blood and guts, then ‘Balance’ is surely nothing but bones and dust,” wrote the website “Curtain Up” in describing the play’s comparative remoteness. On the other hand, some view “Balance” as far less dated than the better-known earlier work. Either way, ‘Balance’ has enjoyed continued success in Albee’s catalogue, garnering a Tony in a 1996 revival, hailed for its subtlety, and remains something of a staple in American theater.

At Rubicon, company veteran Susan Clarke and newcomer Granville Van Dusen portray a Connecticut couple on the cusp of old age, while TV star Bonnie Franklyn (“One Day at a Time”) plays their alcoholic daughter Claire, and Stephanie McNamara handles the other daughter, Julia, who has returned home after a fourth failed marriage. A visit from a couple next door (Robin Gimmel and frequent RTC performer Amanda McBroom) provide the catalyst for the explosive drama.

Rubicon’s co-artistic director and co-founder, James O’Neill, who is directing the production that opens Saturday night and continues through Oct. 14, discussed his take on “A Delicate Balance” over the telephone earlier this week.

Q. Why did you choose to present and direct “A Delicate Balance?”

A. It’s a very complicated process. We have a mission to provide a wide range of material from drama to comedy and musicals as the only professional theater in Ventura. We’ve been around ten years now, and the list to draw from gets shorter and shorter. But truly this play was of particular interest because it had moved me very much when I was young, ever since I saw the movie version as a student at Cal Arts in 1973. The theme of friendships and human relationships and what we owe to each other over long periods of time as relationships develop were fascinating to me. At that time (in college), you’re still forming friendships, and you really don’t have long term ones yet, but there are some you suspect might be. It made me think about such questions as “Where will they lead?” “What is difference between family and friends?” and “What are the boundaries?”

What has been your take on the play as you’ve gone along?

It’s very dense. You can be moved on a surface level just seeing it one time. It’s another matter to try to dig in and find out what’s behind it all. What we’ve found is a surprise at every turn. “What does this really mean?” “How far back does that go?” Day to day it’s been like peeling the onion. Hopefully our exploration will at least get you interested in finding out more.

How about personally? What’s changed for you in those thirty years since seeing the movie and producing the play?

Some of the things that seemed mysterious to me then are now recognizable, and those that didn’t register at all are now of great interest. The characters are older people. Hurts and injuries both psychic and otherwise throughout the years pile up, and you just can’t understand those when you’re a kid. Years later, for me at least, it’s a much richer experience. I hope I’ve been able to bring that to the cast.

“A Delicate Balance” will be performed at Rubicon Theatre at 1006 East Main Street in Ventura from Thursday September 20 through Sunday October 14; call 805-667-2900 for ticket information, or go online: info@rubicontheatre.org.