Spree Theater with Darwin McPherson: A Delicate Balance

Gene Witkowski

Familial dysfunction is currently on full display on Western New York stages.

American Repertory Theater of Western New York is wrestling with a particularly aggressive strain in Killer Joe, which closes this weekend. Tracy Letts’ play illustrates what happens when the “trailer trash” Smith family (Scot Kaitanowski, Patrick Cameron, Jessica Wegrzyn, and Stephanie Bax) hire hitman Killer Joe Cooper (played by David C. Mitchell) to eliminate Kaitanowski’s ex-wife for the insurance money. What follows is a whirlwind rush through the seven deadly sins with a side of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Violent in both tone and presentation, Killer Joe is the kind of rough-hewn modern theater in which ART of WNY is beginning to excel. Director Matthew LaChiusa leads a talented cast through a dark minefield of inappropriate behavior. Cameron’s explosive desperation as the tortured son is as palpable as Wegrzyn’s tragically innocent daughter. Mitchell, who is a nice fellow in real life, brings a detached debauchery to Killer Joe that is both sad and frightening. Bax and Kaitanowski are also on par with their defeated cynicism.

The cast of Killer Joe, courtesy of ART of WNY

Aside from a quibble about Wegrzyn’s tattooed back, which is jarringly out of character for Dottie Smith, Killer Joe is a perfectly “executed” product. Catch it if you can – if you’ve got the guts.  (Adults only, please.)

In a much subtler, but no less intense, vein is the Irish Classical’s A Delicate Balance. Edward Albee’s moody play presents a wealthy couple, Agnes and Tobias (played by Josephine Hogan and Vincent O’Neill), whose predictable existence is disturbed by the unexpected arrivals of their daughter, Julia (Morgan Chard), returning home after her fourth marriage has failed, along with long time friends Harry and Edna, who are running away from an unnamed terror. Already present is Agnes’ sister, Clare (Maureen Anne Porter), whose unrelenting drinking fuels unrestrained commentary on the proceedings.

It’s interesting that the nicely furnished set, designed by Ron Schwartz, is surrounded by brick. While comfortably adorned within with tasteful furniture and a fully stocked bar, it is, in truth, a fortress against the outside world. It seems to have worked, too—until the sudden breach.

At the start of the play, Agnes speculates aimlessly on her hold of her sanity. While losing it is possible, she knows she can’t, as she feels responsible for maintaining the balance in the household. But once the invasions set forth, it seems that madness does indeed take control, with seething tensions slowly boiling over.

Part of the beauty of A Delicate Balance is that it speaks volumes about the nature of interdependency. All of the characters rely on others in very different ways. While both Agnes and Tobias are seeking order, Tobias puts a greater value on civility and friendship when it comes to Harry and Edna. Meanwhile, Harry and Edna are seemingly oblivious to all except their need to help themselves.

Vincent O'Neill and Josephine Hogan in ICTC's A Delicate Balance. Photos by Gene Witkowski

Julia and Clare are distinctive islands of their own. Julia exists as a destabilizing force, disastrous in her own marriages, inconvenient for Harry and Edna, and, of course, worrisome for her parents, who don’t really know how to help her anymore. Meanwhile, Clare, who cemented herself in Agnes and Tobias’ home long before anyone else, just drinks through icy tension with Agnes while sharing secrets with Tobias. Alcohol could very well be a seventh character in the play, as it is evident in every scene.

Director Derek Campbell helms a timeless production with a masterful cast. A perfect pairing--Hogan is coolly thoughtful, while O’Neill is thoughtfully cool. Porter is simply vicious, Chard is wonderfully erratic, and Peter Palmisano and Colleen Gaughan are forcefully tentative as the fretful Harry and Edna. As always, Campbell uses the theatre-in-the-round staging to great effect, keeping the scenes dynamic without depriving any audience perspective. Kudos as well to lighting designer Brian Cavanagh, costume designer Ann R. Emo, and sound designer Tom Makar.

A Delicate Balance is certainly theater you can sink your teeth into. Albee has layered many levels of emotion and motivation within his script, which ICTC has realized with refined clarity. An outstanding production all around.


The Irish Classical Theatre Company production of A Delicate Balance continues through May 13 at the Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street, Buffalo. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 pm. Matinee performances are Saturdays at 3 pm & Sundays at 2 pm. For tickets, call 716-853-ICTC or click here.

The American Repertory Theater production of Killer Joe continues through May 5 at Buffalo East, 1410 Main Street, Buffalo. Performances are Thursday, Friday & Saturday at 7:30 pm. For tickets, call 716-634-1102 or click here.

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