Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

All-star cast carries "A Delicate Balance"

Cleveland Press November 10, 1973

"A Delicate Balance" is the second in the series of filmed plays to be presented here in the American Film Theater series. And like the first one, "The Homecoming," filmed play remains the best way to describe the production

With "Delicate Balance" it becomes more and more apparent that this is about the only way to do these things. Both of the works are plays that wouldn't and couldn't be touched by conventional movie makers.

"Homecoming" reassembled most of the original stage cast under its original director. "A Delicate Balance" puts together a new cast under a different director and it is truly a dream cast

Katharine Hepburn and Paul Scofield are ideally co-starred as Agnes and Tobias, a married couple whose household is disrupted by the continuous presence of Agnes' alcoholic sister Claire (Kate Reid) and the occasional return of their daughter Julia (Lee Remick), escaping from broken marriages. This time it's her fourth.

Upsetting the delicate balance in their handsome Connecticut home is the arrival of best friends Harry and Edna (Joseph Cotten and Betsy Blair).

They arrive not to visit, but to stay. In their own home there is a nameless terror.

An already strained situation is pushed to the breaking point by the presence of the intruders. Their presence is likened to that of plague carriers in medieval times -- does one bar the door, turn them out? Or are they to be admitted with the risk that they will bring the infection with them?

Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize winning play is less powerful and shocking than his "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" But it is gentle only in relative terms (relative to "Virginia Woolf"), Albee continues to write about the stresses of married life, the hurt that close people inflict upon one another.

It's not a funny play but it has a lacerating wit about it and a cast that can bring out that wit.

Paul Scofield's performance is perfect. He is an actor who understands the nuances of a role, who can be restrained without being dull, emotional without being hammy.

Albee's men are put-upon men, put upon by women, and it takes a strong actor to play the role understandably. Scofield's Tobias is a character who vacillates in an effort to keep peace, to maintain a balance. Agnes, on the other hand, maintains the delicate balance by being always in charge.

When Tobias must finally make a decision, must decide about whether their friends may stay, it is a painful, exhausting moment as Scofield plays him.

Miss Hepburn is an Agnes who dominates in a variety of ways -- sometimes willfully, sometimes gently. It is a grand performance marred only by an occasional mannerism.

Kate Reid handles the role of the alcoholic sister with great skill, without slobbering, always reminding one of the human being within the character.

The rest of the cast plays in the same league with the play's stars. Tony Richardson's direction is unobtrusive and pure cinematic techniques are used sparingly. As in "Homecoming" there is no background music, no fancy tricks of cutting or dissolving.

"A Delicate Balance" remains a movie not for moviegoers but for theater buffs. Although there is movement through a realistic set and occasional closeup, the techniques remain principally theatrical.

One such is the long speech, too often in movies done in a series of short takes, often broken up to the point of destroying it. The speeches here are done in what seems to be single takes, a practice that would put a strain upon the average movie-trained performer but strains these particular performers not at all.