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Striking “A Delicate Balance” at Silver Spring Stage

From left, Diana Lee Arnold, Louis Pangaro, and Susan Harper star in “A Delicate Balance” at Silver Spring Stage.  COURTESY PHOTOFrom left, Diana Lee Arnold, Louis Pangaro, and Susan Harper star in “A Delicate Balance” at Silver Spring Stage. COURTESY PHOTOHas company you didn’t expect or want ever fallen in on you?

That’s one of the dilemmas facing the protagonists of “A Delicate Balance,” the first of Edward Albee’s three Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, a Tony Award nominee, and the next production at Silver Spring Stage.

It takes place over one weekend in the living room of a suburban home belonging to Agnes and Tobias, a long-married, middle-aged, upper-class couple who are comfortable financially, but not emotionally.

They’re already besieged by Claire, Agnes’s live-in alcoholic sister, when their supposedly best friends Harry and Edna arrive, running from an unnamed “terror” in their own home. Agnes strives to remain complacent, but teeters on the brink when her daughter also shows up after her fourth marriage breaks up.

“As with many things in life, what makes the play challenging is also what makes it satisfying,” said Fred Zirm, who is making his directorial debut at the Stage. “Albee deals with some raw, fundamental emotions – fear, guilt, anger, and resentment, as well as love and compassion – that can be difficult to deal with in both life and on stage.”

Albee’s characters are often “hyper-articulate,” and given to long speeches that challenge the actor’s memory and the audience’s attention span, Zirm added

This is the third play Louis Pangaro, as Tobias, is doing at the Stage.

“I had a lot of training in high school and college,” he said. “One nice aspect of university and community theater is that we can do difficult scripts, the kind of thing for which Silver Spring Stage is well known.”

Pangaro appreciates “A Delicate Balance” because “it’s a character-driven script, and Tobias, is a wonderful, complicated role. The technical demands are enormous, and the emotions are big, but true.  Like Shakespeare, [the play] veers from funny to painful in just a few lines.”

But Albee presents at least two challenges, Pangaro added. “First, he gives a lot of explicit direction to the actors about how he would like individual lines to be said. So, you have to make sure the emotion he’s asking for is something you can give to the lines you have to say.”

Albee also uses poetic devices, such as alliteration and the repetition of consonants or vowels, that the actors must do justice to while still making the lines sound natural.

“When friends and relatives challenge the ‘delicate balance’ Tobias and Agnes have maintained for years, the couple has to confront things they’ve suppressed for years. Old emotions break through. That has to shock the audience, but not surprise them,” said Pangaro.

Alexandra Tydings, who plays Agnes, is making her acting debut at Silver Spring Stage.

She considers Albee “an amazing writer,” and Agnes, “a big, meaty meal of a role and also a monster character, who is based loosely on his actual mother (Albee was adopted.)

“The characters are literary, complicated people who drink too much, and Agnes sees herself as the fulcrum holding everything together,” Tydings said.

Despite the subject matter, she added, Zirm is “finding the lighter moments in the script. He thinks people play Albee too dark. There’s a lot of comic energy on stage.”

The Stage continues to celebrate its 50th anniversary through choosing one play from each decade since its founding, “A Delicate Balance” represents the ‘60s.

“It’s difficult to distill the meaning of a complex play into a simple statement,” Zirm said. “But I think the title points to a central idea, that human relationships involve a delicate balance between many variables, such as family bonds and friendship, love and resentment, anger and understanding, and self and others.”

“A Delicate Balance” runs June 1 through June 23 at Silver Spring Stage, located at 10145 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. For more information, visit the theater’s website at  www.ssstage.org

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